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Farming Press Statement, 3rd February 2015

Red Tractor Assurance is seeking views on how we might move forward to a position where beef cattle spend all of their life on assured farms. We have instigated an industry-wide consultation to help plan how this can be delivered. The consultation will include farmers and every link of the beef supply chain.

We know from talking to shoppers that they believe the scheme provides them with assurance that the animal’s welfare is well cared for, but this cannot be certain if we only know about the last 3 months of the animal’s life. Consumer research confirms that they would feel misled. Some have argued that there is ‘no value’ in extending farm assurance to whole of life. The reality is that consumers will see no value in assurance when they discover that it is not whole of life.

Schemes in most other commodity sectors adopted a whole of life definition of assurance. In fact pigs and poultry require breeding stock also to come from assured farms, in the case of broilers covering the entire breeding pyramid. This makes the definition of assurance for beef cattle – that it should spend just the final 90 days on an assured holding – illogical.

Red Tractor is not proposing that all farms join the current RTA Beef Scheme. Alternative, practical ways to assure store / suckler beef producers are being proposed. For example the proposal includes the development of a cattle rearing register, logically followed by a cattle rearing scheme that farmers wishing to supply into the farm assurance supply chain would need to join / sign up to. This will provide some oversight of production but with lighter touch standards appropriate to animals further away from finishing. This approach will allow us to deliver this economically and almost certainly at a lower cost than normal assurance that applies to finishers (£150 per farm).

Red Tractor is disappointed that grossly inflated estimates of the costs to the industry have been circulated. One estimate we have seen alleges that an investment of at least £1,000 will be needed at every farm simply to meet the requirements. This is simply not true. Red Tractor’s intention is simply to check that farms do what they should be doing and the additional compliance costs should be virtually nothing.

The consultation was sent out industry-wide on 21st Jan. Responses are requested by 27th March.

– ENDS –

The current definition of assurance for beef cattle – that it should spend the final 90 days on an assured holding – was focused around food safety and ensuring the animal was free from all veterinary medicines before slaughter. Customer and consumer expectations have moved on substantially since and are a driving factor in the proposed changes.

The issue of whole life assurance for beef cattle is complicated by the variety of different farming systems in use, the fact that many cattle will be raised on more than one holding during their life and the volume of beef coming from dairy cattle.

The transition period will inevitably be extended by the fact that the majority of animals in the beef supply chain will have a two-to-three year life span. Cattle already born today may not be finished and slaughtered until well into 2018 and it would not be right to change the rules so that cattle already in the system will be denied the opportunity to become assured.

For the past two decades Red Tractor and its predecessor FABBL have always had an open consultation on changes to scheme requirements. Plans are developed by a beef technical advisory committee that includes all interested parties including representatives of NBA, NFU, meat processors and retailers before they are circulated for wider comment.

For further information, please contact HD Communications Limited: Nicki Dallison, T: 01932 877241 E: nicki.dallison@hdcommunications.co.uk John Hay, T: 01932 877240 E: john.hay@hdcommunications.co.uk

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