Red Tractor revise farm standards for meat producers

Red Tractor revise farm standards for meat producers

Ahead of the publication of its full report in August, the food assurance scheme has outlined what is changing in its revised farm standards from November 2021.

Red Tractor CEO, Jim Moseley.

Red Tractor said the consultation followed a rigorous three-staged process adhering to the gold standard recommendations of the British Standards Institute – committee, consultation and consensus. Over 3,000 pieces of feedback were fed into the technical advisory committees and sectors boards for consensus, before being agreed by the main Red Tractor board.

The revised standards cover beef and lamb, pigs and chicken, alongside dairy, fresh produce and combinable crops and sugar beet.

Some new standards have been added because of legislation change, such as an amendment to vermin control standards to comply with food safety law, or industry commitments to improving animal welfare, including the wider dairy sector’s pledge to eliminate the routine euthanasia of calves by 2023.

Red Tractor’s CEO Jim Moseley stated that the committee’s aims were “to hear from all stakeholders and to engage as much of the farming community as possible.” He added: “This has been enormously helpful for informing the work to finalise the new version of the standards.”

The revised standards, Moseley said, achieve two key objectives:

  • meeting the needs of consumers who expect high standards but shop keenly on price, and
  • providing farmers and the supply chain with manageable standards.

Moseley added that getting the right balance between these objectives then also satisfies the needs of food businesses and government.

Beef and Lamb

  • New: Following recommendations from the Farm Animal Welfare Council and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), tethered housing systems, for stock of any age, will not be permitted on Red Tractor Farms.

In the short term, derogations will be offered, and visits will be made to the small number of members still tethering their cattle. 

  • New: Farms will be asked how they are taking action to eradicate bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD). This must be documented in a health plan and implemented. 

This new recommendation will become a full standard from October 2022, allowing members a lead time for a change in system or testing routine, where necessary to control endemic disease. 

  • New: The health plan (as above) now needs to be signed, dated, and reviewed annually by a nominated vet who should visit the farm at least once a year. 

The committee clarified: “Efficient and meaningful health planning builds on management techniques for continuous improvement and encourages a move to a proactive management system.”

  • New: All farms with workers must have a written Health and Safety policy.

This is a slight advance on the legal baseline which only applies to businesses with more than five employees. Given high fatality figures in the industry, Red Tractor believes it is essential to check policies are in place and communicated to workers. 

  • New: Efficient and meaningful health planning builds on management techniques for continuous improvement and encourages a move to a proactive management system. 

The health plan now needs to be signed, dated and reviewed annually by a nominated vet who should visit the farm at least once a year. 

  • Upgraded: At least one person on farm must have undertaken medicine training to help raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance and drive medicine use best practice. 

This is currently a recommendation and follows similar change to the Dairy sector in 2019.  

Pigs 

  • New: All units must put measures in place to minimise the risk of tail biting and avoid the need for tail docking.

This policy includes an annual risk assessment on all units and an action plan on farms rearing docked pigs. Anyone carrying out docking, the committee stated, must have evidence to support the continued need, including a detailed quarterly veterinary review. Red Tractor stated that monitoring health and performance is key to ensuring oversight of pig health and welfare.” 

  • New: Anyone involved with the care of pigs must now complete online pig welfare training in key areas.

Among these key areas, the committee highlighted the best practice around moving and handling pigs to ensure consistent training “so that all pigs are always treated compassionately.”

  • New: At least one person on every farm must undertake training in the responsible use of medicines.

Within this clause, Red Tractor provided further guidance on “the responsible use of medicines.” They go on to state: “Where a farm is identified as persistently using high amounts of antibiotics, they must now develop and implement an action plan with their vet to reduce antibiotic use.”

  • New: When there is an outbreak of disease, it can be useful if nearby farms are made aware so they can tighten their biosecurity.

To facilitate this, members will be required to sign up to the Significant Diseases Charter and report disease outbreaks. 

  • New: All farms with workers must have a written Health and Safety policy.

This policy, like that applied to beef and lamb, is a slight advance on the legal baseline which only applies to businesses with more than five employees. 

  • Upgraded: Red Tractor’s enrichment standard, in line with Defra’s Code of Practice, requires specific combinations of enrichment materials and objects, to ensure the important behavioural need of pigs is met. 
  • Revised: Stock people need to be robustly trained on pig euthanasia to ensure best practice is maintained.

Initial euthanasia training must now be carried out by a vet or via a Humane Slaughter Association course. Where a mechanical device is used for piglet euthanasia, Red Tractor have aligned their requirements with the Humane Slaughter Association’s guidance to ensure effectiveness. 

Chicken

  • New: A number of changes are to be made for hatchery eggs to align with turkeys and ducks.

These changes include fumigating and sanitising eggs prior to setting, temperature and humidity-controlled storage rooms and records of checks, improved egg traceability and transport of eggs and chicks.

  • New: All farms with workers must also have a written Health and Safety policy.

This policy is to be implemented across beef, lamb, pigs, and chicken. Further information about the regulation can be found in the sections above.

  • New: Turnaround times between flocks on farm must now be no less than five calendar days.

This change, Red Tractor said, will ensure that farms have enough time between flocks to clean and disinfect houses between new flocks arriving.

  • Revised: Standards with best practice, on all grower units, have been updated.

Enrichment now needs to be provided and evenly placed in the shed by day three at the latest rather than day seven as currently.

  • Revised: The free range and enhanced welfare standards require only slower-growing breeds.

The list of acceptable breeds, the committee confirmed, has been updated in line with current research. This means Red Tractor can give a guarantee to consumers that only slower growing breeds are used in our free-range standards as their growth rates are better suited to this production system.

  • Revised: To meet customer and consumer expectations, all broiler, poussin, and free-range units must meet the minimum standard of windows at 3% of the floor area by October 2023.
  • Upgraded: A heat stress policy must be demonstrably implemented on the farm. Heat stress continues to have a significant impact on bird mortality.
  • Upgraded: Standards on Mycoplasma testing for breeder layers are to be strengthened.

Testing, Red Tractor states, is in line with the Poultry Health Scheme requirements. Testing records for Mycoplasma gallisepticum and Mycoplasma synoviae must be retained to ensure bird welfare and the prevention of disease.

Some additional new standards to be added due to legislation change include:

  • an amendment to vermin control standards to comply with food safety law
  • further industry commitments to improving animal welfare, including the wider dairy sector’s pledge to eliminate the routine euthanasia of calves by 2023
  • for dairy, tethered housing systems, for stock of any age, will not be permitted on Red Tractor Farms.
  • a new standard to ensure the industry delivers on a commitment to eliminate the routine euthanasia of calves by 2023 will be introduced, focusing on a written breeding and management policy. 

“A real opportunity”

Andrew Laughton, National Beef Association chair, commented on the policies outlined: “The revised standards are a real opportunity to demonstrate how committed we are to continually improving how we meet customer requirements and protect the beef industry.”

Richard Griffiths, British Poultry Council chief executive, said: “The British Poultry Council and its members are proud to have helped develop these updated standards, so consumers know that the food on their table is produced safely and to the highest welfare and environmental standards.”

He continued: “Standards evolve to meet the needs of consumers and the wider supply chain, and we are confident that these will bolster the industry that feeds the nation their favourite meat.” 

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