Red Tractor reassures industry over scheme review

A shift to whole life assurance for beef under the Red Tractor scheme will not lead to any shortening of supplies within the sector, bosses have pledged.

Red Tractor (RT) is currently halfway through a consultation process on a proposal to shift to whole life assurance (WLA), but early reactions to the proposal have raised alarms.

David Clarke, chief executive of RT said there had been some “scaremongering going on” and the launch of the consultation had resulted in a “stronger adverse reaction than we had expected”.

At the moment, the RT scheme currently only covers the last 90 days of the animal’s life and is focused on the finishing of beef cattle before slaughter. Clarke said this was down to the fact that, when the scheme was set up, the focus was food safety and the finishing period was deemed the area of greater risk.

“The finishing period is critical to the safety of food and that was what we were focused on. But 20 years on and people now often attach animal welfare to farm assurance; it’s not just about food safety, it’s about the animal being kept in good condition throughout. We want to be certain of the conditions through the lifetime of the animal, not just on the finishing farm.”

However, some farmers have objected to the idea, seeing it as unnecessary gold plating of an already robust scheme (around a third of animals in the RT scheme currently spend their whole life on an assured farm) while others have expressed concerns that, should RT push ahead with the plan, it could lead to a shortening of assured supplies on the shelves.

However, Clarke has reassured farmers, saying there would be no rush to implement the changes: “We’re going to be doing this gently, recruit people into the system and only when we’ve got critical mass will we move it forward.

“We would be shooting ourselves in the foot to create a shortage – we don’t want to do that, and we won’t.”

NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said he was “not surprised by the strong passions and diverse views that Assured Food Standards’ (AFS) consultation on whole life assurance for the beef sector has provoked”.

He added: “The board has long supported the principle of whole life assurance for beef but only on the condition that a practical proposal can be devised. What is clear is that there are many legitimate and practical concerns being raised about the AFS proposals. These should be addressed during the consultation if at all possible and certainly as part of an open conversation with the whole beef sector after the formal consultation ends. NFU members from both ‘sides’ of the debate have raised many issues directly with me.

“I would encourage all farmers to participate in this consultation. The NFU livestock board does not regard this as a ‘done deal’, so please consider the AFS proposal and ensure your voice is heard.”

The consultation is due to continue until 27 March, and Clarke said no decision had been made and all views would be considered.

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