Top tips to pass a pig farm assurance scheme audit

While regular audits are routine on UK pig farms, some pork producers can expect more frequent visits in future after Red Tractor introduced tougher compliance standards.

Red Tractor assured pig farms account for 94% of pork produced in the UK, with each unit subject to quarterly vet visits and an annual independent audit which serve to reassure the consumer that the farm operates with animal welfare at the forefront. 

Most of the 60,000 farm inspections Red Tractor currently conducts annually are announced routine inspections, regardless of the extent of compliance with the standards.

See also: Red Tractor to tighten on-farm inspection regime

But a risk-based auditing programme is now in place too. This means that producers categorised as higher risk, through earlier non-compliance with standards, will be subject to an increased inspection regime through additional unannounced spot audits.

To prepare pig producers for inspections, we’ve pulled together a list of “must dos”.

1. Update your Veterinary Health Plan 

All pig farmers that are members of an assurance scheme including the Red Tractor Farm Assurance Pigs Scheme must have a Veterinary Health Plan (VHP).

Without an up-to-date VHP, a producer is immediately non-compliant with the schemes’ requirements.

Detail is key – Red Tractor requires the VHP to consider trends in health and performance records. 

The plan, among other things, must be produced by a vet and must contain:

  • A strategy for the prevention and control of common diseases
  • A biosecurity policy 
  • Details of staff who are deemed competent by a vet to perform certain procedures such as administering injections.

A VHP is a working document that changes and develops with a herd so auditors will want to see evidence that it is reviewed and updated as needed and that the required health, welfare and performance levels are being delivered.  

The auditor will also expect proof that it has been reviewed quarterly by the farm’s vet. 

Vaccination schedules should be incorporated into the VHP. When the health status changes or when vaccines come on to or disappear off the market, the VHP’s schedule might change and this should be documented.

2. Provide sufficient environmental enrichment 

Pigs must have permanent access to modifications or additions to their surroundings that improve their living conditions.

Provide objects or materials that pigs can investigate and manipulate to keep them occupied. These might include straw and other forms of bedding such as hay, miscanthus and wood shavings.

See also: Farmer’s guide to different enrichment types for pigs

In housing systems where bedding cannot be provided as a source of enrichment, foodstuffs such as hay, silage and root vegetables can be placed in racks or novel containers.

Other enrichments can include sisal rope, wood (which can be suspended from a chain) and rubber or plastic items such as balls, toys and hosepipes. 

Chains alone and manipulable material containing wire, such as tyres, are not permitted.

All enrichment materials should be replenished frequently.

3. Show evidence that biosecurity is being adhered to

Maintain a visitor’s book and ensure there is a supply of protective clothing for visitors to wear.

Foot dips/boot cleaners using Defra-approved disinfectants must be provided at visitor entry points and vehicles used to transport pigs must be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected. 

It is preferable to have one site entry and exit point that makes farm deliveries and collections easier to control, in conjunction with signage that gives clear instructions to drivers on who to contact, where not to go and what not to do. 

4. Update medicine records 

The auditor will expect an up-to-date record book of medicines bought and administered or alternatively an online record together with copies of relevant regulations and codes of practice.

The records must include:

  • Information on the identity of the treated pigs 
  • The reason for treatment
  • The batch number
  • The amount given
  • Expiry date of the medicine used
  • Date information for each animal treated 
  • The date when the animal becomes fit for human consumption, in addition to other details.

Medicine records must be kept for at least five years, even if the pigs referenced in it have been slaughtered.

Collated antibiotic usage must be uploaded to the AHDB electronic medicines book (eMB) on a quarterly basis.

Good recording regimes for monitoring the health of pigs should extend beyond the medicines record book. They should be evident throughout the farm system and should include daily recording of all vaccines and antimicrobials administered.

In addition to these records, the farm should have evidence that any staff who carry out euthanasia are properly trained and competent and approved by a vet.

5. Ensure pig housing is up to standard

If buildings are tired and in need of repair, consider appropriate improvements. 

Deal with any sharp edges, low-hanging electrical installations and broken gates or pens.

If using a wet feeding system floors must not be worn; if they are worn down and not draining sufficiently, provide bedding as an interim measure ahead of repair.

6. Have a bait plan for vermin control

Producers often overlook the need for a map of the bait points and the type of bait used.

Keep a record of bait point inspections and replenishment dates. 

Outline measures necessary to control or deter rodents, birds and other animals, including access to feed stores.

7. Ensure carcass storage facilities are compliant

Lockable containers or locked, dedicated buildings are required for the immediate storage of carcasses.

Replace old or broken hinges and any access points that allow entry of vermin.

Common pitfalls for failing an inspection

  1. Unlocked carcass storage bins.
  2. Batch numbers and dates when animals become fit for human consumption missing from medicine records.
  3. No documented site survey and/or environmental risk assessment written prior to treatment with bait.
  4. Lack of farm map showing, where applicable: all buildings; the bio-secure areas; all fields including area; watercourses including ditches and ponds, boreholes, springs, wells and any areas of high pollution risk; bait point locations; and designated areas for smoking and consumption of food.
  5. Absence of an up-to-date non-mains annual water test certificate.
  6. No up-to-date uploads of collated antibiotic usage data on to eMB.
  7. Poorly maintained buildings.

The financial repercussions of failing an audit

Farmers who repeatedly fail audits are initially suspended by the assurance schemes and can be removed entirely if breaches are not rectified.

The financial repercussions are severe, as the unit will no longer be able to sell pigs to an abattoir as assured and must accept the price paid on the spot market.

Under the new inspection regime, “high risk” members are identified under an internal system that uses the nature and number of non-conformances to categorise each member according to “reputational risk”.

If after an inspection a member is classified as “higher risk”, based on the number and type of non-conformances, an additional unannounced spot check inspection is triggered and the cost must be met by the farmer.

If improvement can be shown the farm will no longer be categorised as higher risk, but if not membership is suspended.

To be reinstated, a suspended member must correct all non-conformances and will be subject to a further unannounced inspection, again at their cost.

If there is no improvement after this inspection, membership is withdrawn.