Livestock farmers in Cornwall are furious about changes to the Red Tractor assurance scheme, and have requested that the new standards be revoked.
The new Red Tractor standards came into force on 1 October 2014, and include a new compliance and integrity audit and compulsory vet visits for farmers who use prescription medicines.
NFU members attending the county’s annual meeting on Monday night (24 November) passed a resolution urgently requesting that the national livestock and dairy boards call a halt to the refreshed standards and audits at the next Red Tractor board meeting on 2 December.
NFU regional director Mel Squires said the union was urging a serious review of the whole process.
She added: “Members expressed grave concern that such measures have not been fully consulted upon with grass roots farming industry, resulting in additional burden and costs being borne by farmers without true value of such additional requirements being demonstrated.”
Ian Scott, who keeps 1,500 ewes and fattens 1,300 cattle a year at Trecorner Farm, Launceston, said the new standards were far too stringent.
He added: “How many consumers pick up a pack of lamb and demand to know how many ewes had a prolapse or how many lambs died pre- and post-weaning?
“No consumer wants that level of detail – this is not consumer-led, it is being imposed on the whim of a supermarket and without proper consultation.”
Mr Scott said every single extra standard has a cost – whether it is financial, labour time, or the desirability to continue producing food.
He added: “The Red Tractor is meant to be about provenance, safety, and welfare across mainstream production – not niche markets. These new demands will jeopardise support for the scheme among farmers, which is not in anyone’s interest.”
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said the lack of transparency was extremely worrying.
She added: “If there is a value to consumers in added welfare, retailers need to pass that value back to the suppliers. We also need an independently audited supply chain to see what regulations the processors and retailers are putting into place.”
However, David Clarke, chief executive of the Red Tractor scheme, said the changes were minimal and had been fully consulted upon.
“We are flabbergasted by the strength of feeling among a very small pocket of producers,” he said. “It goes without saying that the British consumer is concerned about animal welfare and all we have done is slightly enhance the health planning requirements.”
The compliance and integrity audit would only involve one extra visit for each of the 400 assessors to provide an overview of their competence, he added.
“The feedback we had was that our assessors are inconsistent, so we’ve responded to that. The changes have been in the public domain since July and we have had absolutely no negative reaction. Short of going round to speaking to every individual farmer I don’t think we could do more.”