Shopper in supermarket buying beef(c) REX/London News Pictures

The NFU has urged its members to share their views on Red Tractor Assurance scheme plans to insist on lifetime assurance for beef cattle.

Existing rules state beef cattle need only spend 90 days before slaughter on an assured holding to qualify for the scheme.

However, Red Tractor is proposing that cattle must spend their whole lives on assured farms in order to meet the expectations of shoppers.

Surveys suggest more than 50% of customers already believe beef is lifetime assured and 86% of consumers said they felt shocked, concerned or let down that lifetime assurance was not being delivered.

“We recognise and advocate that there is a growing awareness and demand from UK retailers and processors for the need to differentiate UK beef from imported products.”
Charles Sercombe, NFU livestock board

However, many farmers who are not currently assured, claim the move will add unnecessary paperwork and cost to their businesses.

NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said the NFU had supported the principle of lifetime assurance for beef since it was first discussed four years ago, but it was an important opportunity for members to have their say about the delivery and respond to the consultation.

“We recognise and advocate that there is a growing awareness and demand from UK retailers and processors for the need to differentiate UK beef from imported products.

“UK farmers supply high-quality products and adhere to some of the highest welfare and traceability standards in the world; however as farmers we need to ensure we remain competitive while maintaining our point of difference from imported meat products.

“We welcome the opportunity to offer our comment on Red Tractor Assurance proposals on implementation and believe that a move to lifetime assurance must only be implemented with a practical mechanism at farm level and one that doesn’t distort the market.”

The plea for farmers to make their views know was issued after an initial consultation meeting at Collumpton, Devon on 29 Jan attracted 200 angry livestock farmers.

Speaking afterwards, Bill Harper of the National Beef Association said the organisation had gone “over the top”.

Mr Harper warned: “If you don’t pull back, you will have a fight from your own members, which will not be good for the whole industry”.

Mr Harper reckoned the additional cost to the beef industry of recruiting additional non-assured producers to the assurance scheme could be as high as £23m.

At the same meeting former Farmers Weekly Beef Farmer of the Year, John Hoskin, warned that if lifetime assurance went ahead beef supply would become limited and some smaller abattoirs would not survive.

Farmers can respond to the consultation by emailing their views to nfulivestock@nfu.org.uk. You can also make your views clear by voting in the poll.