UFU representatives sitting on the Farm Quality Assurance Board met with Red Tractor this week to discuss lifetime assurance for beef.
The FQAS Board is made up of farming organisations, processors, DARD and the LMC.
There is an unanimous view within the FQAS Board to object to lifetime assurance. The Board has long held concerns about the way in which Red Tractor has consulted on lifetime assurance, particularly their decision not to disclose consultation responses. This has led to an air of suspicion about who actually wants lifetime assurance.
To date there has been no evidence to demonstrate that this is an initiative led by consumer demand. Red Tractor has cited that they have been criticised by welfare groups and government for not having checks on non-assured farms, this is despite the fact that farmers already comply with all statutory requirements through cross compliance and also have a vet on farm at least once a year for TB testing. The UFU has argued that lifetime assurance will only add more cost to the industry with no financial gain coming from the market place.
To date Red Tractor has not produced a business plan to demonstrate how their proposal will benefit farmers. Currently over 99 per cent of NI cattle are quality assured with over 50 per cent lifetime assured which demonstrates that if the market really wanted them, there are already a significant number of cattle in NI that meet this spec.
Key to Red Tractor’s difficulties in delivering lifetime assurance in GB is the fact that they do not have a central electronic database like Aphis which can capture real time data to make an assessment on whether an animal is in spec or not. All movements in GB are on a paper based passport system.
Red Tractor has proposed that for all farms finishing cattle they must have full quality assurance while for those only selling store cattle they would only have to participate in a ‘quality assurance light’ scheme which involves farmer self assessments which would travel with each of the animals. Red Tractor see this as an initial development which would progress to a tighter standard once they have an appropriate database in place.
The UFU has argued that this type of proposal will not add any value to the quality assurance scheme and will in fact devalue the standards which current quality assurance members in Northern Ireland produce to.
The industry is also concerned that sheep could be the next commodity Red Tractor seek to introduce lifetime assurance. Red Tractor has stated that pigs and poultry are already lifetime assured and beef and sheep are the only areas where they are not being consistent.
The UFU has argued that beef and sheep cannot be compared directly with the intensive sector because the production cycle and marketing of stock are completely different. The FQAS Board will be continuing to lobby against lifetime assurance and is currently seeking support from other sections of the UK industry.