Farmers call out BBC over Countryfile Red Tractor story

Farmers have voiced their frustration after the BBC screened a Countryfile report investigating Red Tractor assurance, which calls into question the trustworthiness of the food standards scheme.

NFU leader Minette Batters also entered the fray accusing the BBC of having “blood on its hands”.

The programme asked whether consumers should trust the Red Tractor logo when it comes to animal welfare standards.

See also: Fury after BBC suggests farmers mistreat livestock

It featured livestock vet Alice Brough, who once worked in the farming sector and now works for Viva! – the vegan animal welfare charity. Dr Brough said too many farms she visited failed to meet minimum welfare standards.

“What I was seeing and doing was horrifying,” she said. “Most days I was having to euthanise animals for welfare issues.”

Welfare inspections

Dr Brough told the programme that part of her job while working as a farm vet was carrying out welfare inspections for Red Tractor Assurance.

She said she never recommended any farm for suspension from the scheme because the inspections she carried out were ultimately paid for by the farmers themselves.

Responding on Twitter, NFU president Minette Batters described the item as “an abhorrent piece that was not a true reflection of British farming and animal welfare standards”.

And she asked: “Where was the balance, BBC Countryfile?”

Mrs Batters continued: “I will go as far as saying BBC Countryfile and [the] BBC in general have blood on their hands.

“There are real-life consequences from the words they use – I will never, ever condone poor animal welfare, but the British consumer deserves to hear the truth.”

Farmer fury

Other farmers vented their anger and frustration with the report on Twitter.

Dairy farmer Abi Reader, who manages a herd of 180 Holstein Friesian and Dairy Shorthorns in Glamorganshire, South Wales, said she was “not happy” with the damnation of Red Tractor.

She tweeted: “Do you suggest getting rid of all baseline standards & having nothing? That would be totally irresponsible. You have undermined the many because of the few. Proud to be a Red Tractor Food farmer.”

Joe Stanley, an arable and beef farmer in Leicestershire, who is also an FW columnist, tweeted: “I’m proud to raise my cattle to some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world under Red Tractor Food.

“Did you know, the UK is one of only four countries to receive the highest grade in the global Animal Protection Index.”

Speaking on the programme, presenter Tom Heap said Dr Brough wasn’t the only person to believe Red Tractor was failing to enforce welfare standards. But he said some farmers were working hard to improve them.

Mr Heap said the programme had asked to interview a Red Tractor representative, but the assurance scheme sent the BBC a prepared statement instead.

In a further statement, Red Tractor Assurance told Farmers Weekly: “Red Tractor is extremely disappointed with the representation of British farm assurance standards on BBC Countryfile.”

‘Unfair and unbalanced’

The assurance scheme defended its decision not to appear in person on the programme.

“After comprehensive discussions with the show’s researchers, it became clear that the item was not going to be fair or balanced and the decision was taken to not offer a Red Tractor spokesperson to be filmed, but to provide a detailed brief and statement.

“This decision was mirrored by every other industry body approached.”

Farmers Weekly has approached the BBC for a comment.

See more