A beef herd in a field©Design Pics Inc/Rex

Almost 70% of farmers are against Red Tractor proposals to introduce a mandatory lifetime assurance measure for beef, a Farmers Weekly poll has suggested.

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

See also: Furious cattle farmers slam Red Tractor rule changes

The proposed rule changes, which were put out for consultation on 21 January, insist cattle must spend their whole lives on assured farms.  

Of the 494 respondents to the question – Should the Red Tractor scheme introduce lifetime assurance for beef – 69.23% said no, compared with 30.77% who voted yes.

The poll results came in a week when West Country NFU members launched a stinging attack on the proposals.

Have your say

Farmers wishing to take part in the consultation have until 27 March 2015 to put forward their comments. Read more online on Red Tractor assurance.

In an open letter to Red Tractor, the NFU’s south-west regional board described the plans as “not fit for purpose”. 

The board also criticised the consultation process, saying it had left farmers feeling “disenfranchised and questioning the entire scheme”.

In the letter the NFU board said it wholly supported the principles behind farm assurance. But it said: “We are concerned that Red Tractor has not sought opinions on whether whole-life assurance is required.”

The letter stated: “[Red Tractor] has also only consulted on two contentious methods of delivery that have not been asked for, are not backed with reasoning and ‘market/supply chain’ evidence and are not deemed fit for purpose as currently presented.”

NFU headquarters also voiced concerns. Livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said it was clear there were many legitimate and practical concerns raised about the Assured Food Standards (AFS) proposals.

“Our only intention in the proposed changes is to maintain the reputation and credibility of the scheme.”
David Clarke, Red Tractor

Among a number of criticisms Mr Sercombe listed:

  • The rigid nature of the consultation does not encourage alternative ideas and delivery options.
  • What is AFS’s back-up plan if the “critical mass’ is not reached. Limited uptake of the proposed Cattle Rearing Register and eventually the Cattle Rearing Scheme would inevitably distort the supply chain.
  • Non-assured farmers need to understand more about the Cattle Rearing Scheme standards, including frequency of inspection and the costs of membership.
  • How will AFS ensure that lifetime assurance strengthens the Red Tractor brand and differentiates our beef from competitors?

Red Tractor chief executive David Clarke said in response to the comments from the NFU: “We recognise the strength of feeling from farmers in the South West, but the consultation is getting more supportive feedback from others, including farmers.

“Our only intention in the proposed changes is to maintain the reputation and credibility of the scheme.”

Mr Clarke added: “We have clear evidence from consumer research that this proposal is important. Red Tractor is keen to hear views on this topic. It has instigated this wide-ranging and well publicised consultation. It was Red Tractor that organised the meeting in the South West and several others around the country to hear the views of grassroots producers.

“The consultation ends on 27 March and it would be wrong to prejudge the outcome, but we are disappointed that some opinions are being influenced by serious misinformation, particularly about the costs of this measure and the threat to supply.”