The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says dairy farmers in Northern Ireland are strongly opposed to Red Tractor’s plans to introduce unannounced inspections and have made their concerns known directly to the farm quality assurance body.
Red Tractor was established in 2000 and has grown to become the UK’s biggest farm and food standards scheme, covering all of animal welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental protection.
UFU deputy president, Victor Chestnutt said: “The UFU has been at the forefront of challenging Red Tractor’s new risk-based approach to farm inspections. We have met them a number of times and thought it was important grassroots members had the opportunity to put concerns directly to Red Tractor representatives.”
The UFU hosted two meetings with Red Tractor representatives Angela Rhodes, Red Tractor Dairy Board Chair; and Philippa Wiltshire, Red Tractor External Affairs Manager over recent days. The first meeting was with the UFU dairy policy committee and the second was an open meeting for UFU members.
Mr Chesnutt continued: “It is vital Red Tractor understand our concerns. There were lively question and answer sessions at both meetings and farmers questioned Red Tractor on all aspects of the quality assurance scheme. Uniformity across the UK regions when it comes to the stringency of Red Tractor inspections is crucial. Currently, there is an unjust view that NI dairy farms struggle to meet the same standards as farms in GB. This is simply not true.”
The UFU says dairy farmers are frustrated with Red Tractor’s inspection process and that concerns raised with the farm quality assurance body have not been addressed to date.
Mr Chesnutt continued: “Red Tractor have heard first-hand the concerns of grassroots dairy farmers in Northern Ireland. We now want to work with them to see these issues addressed. Farmers largely support the concept of a farm quality assurance scheme but it must work for all parties. Unfortunately, many aspects of the new risk-based approach are problematic for farmers.”
Last autumn, Red Tractor announced its intention to substantially increase the breadth of its food chain assurance regime in a bid to become the flagship of British food and farming.
This commitment will include a new suite of additional ‘Modular Standards’, to sit alongside its current core offering. The new modules could cover areas such as organic, environmentally sustainable production or enriched animal welfare and will be launched with a consumer-facing labelling system to improve clarity for shoppers.