Unannounced inspections on Red Tractor poultry farms begin

What you need to know about the new risk-based approach to farm assurance audits.

The first unannounced inspections of Red Tractor poultry farms under a new risk-based regime will take place in April. The assurance scheme announced the change of approach last year.

Poultry units categorised as high risk following routine assessments will now receive a follow-up visit from an assessor without prior warning to ensure the scheme’s standards are being upheld. If standards haven’t improved, those farms could be suspended.

For example, tending to sick or injured livestock promptly and handling animals in a way that minimises stress would be considered high risk, whereas having a farm map or a complaints record would be considered as lower risk.

Farmers are informed of their risk rating and that they will receive an unannounced inspection which takes the form of a spot check rather than full audit.

The scheme’s chief executive Jim Moseley said he understood businesses would be disappointed and concerned to be categorised as high risk. “A poultry unit classified as high risk does not mean it is a bad farm,” he said. “It means extra work is required to ensure compliance with standards. This is vital to protect the reputation of the scheme and all its members.”

Red Tractor calculates the risk rating of a business through an internal system based on the nature and number of non-conformances found during routine inspections. “The criteria is not known by the assessor who remains completely independent,” Moseley added.

“As an assurance body we have weighted our standards against the reputational risk they pose to Red Tractor if they are not complied with. We do this calculation in-house and the risk score is kept confidential but depending on the non-conformances identified, farms will be notified by their certification body of the next steps they must take to continue to be a certified member of the Red Tractor scheme.”

Addressing non-conformances found during a routine inspection – either at the time of the inspection or within 28 days – will not change the farm’s risk rating, a point which Red Tractor says is important for producers to be aware of.

The usual appeals process to certification bodies with regards to audits and non-conformances remains. If members wish to appeal their risk rating, this can be done to Red Tractor directly.

There are more than 10,000 assured poultry farms across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Red Tractor insists any farm upholding its standards will notice no changes. Against a backdrop of huge media, NGO and activist scrutiny, the scheme’s chief executive Jim Moseley said it is crucial for every member to meet every standard every day.

“The vast majority of members do a fantastic job and those who continue to achieve these high standards and can demonstrate it at their normal inspection will not be affected,” said Moseley.

“It is vital that consumers have complete trust in the assurance scheme if they are to continue to buy food and drink bearing the logo.”

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED 

How has Red Tractor decided on the weightings of each standard?

Each standard is weighted according to how critical it is to the performance and reputation of Red Tractor’s members and the scheme as a whole. The process involved all sector chairmen considering each standard to assess, if it was breached, how much of a reputational risk would it pose and how Red Tractor would be able to defend it.

All standards are important and must be complied with, but standards had to be weighted for the risk-based approach to work.

Why is Red Tractor not publishing the methodology and weightings?

Red Tractor’s Standards Committee agreed that the merits of not publishing this information outweighed those for transparency. It considered the most important reason to be maintaining the independence of assessors. They do not know how the standards are weighted, and so they remain completely impartial.

I’m concerned about assessor inconsistency. Has Red Tractor considered this in the context of this new risk-based approach?

With the rollout of the risk-based approach we recognise it is now even more important that inspections are consistent and fair to all members, regardless of the scale of the farming operation. We will shortly be commissioning some analysis to ensure that the risk-based approach is applied consistently, regardless of farm size. We will consider whether tolerance should and could be built into some standards to ensure pragmatism is applied consistently to the standards during the inspection.

Can assessors tell farmers at routine audits whether they are going to be classified as high risk?  

Assessors do not know how the standards are weighted or how a farm’s risk rating is calculated so are not in a position to be able to advise farmers of their risk rating. The farmer will be informed if they fall into the high-risk category once the Red Tractor system has received details of the visit. Neither the assessor nor the farm’s advisors – such as vets – will be consulted to decide the outcome of the risk rating.

I’m not always on site so how can you expect me to be there if you turn up unannounced?  

We recognise there are some impracticalities around unannounced inspections. Farms due to receive an unannounced audit will be asked to complete a questionnaire and return it to their certification body within 28 days of receipt, to ensure the inspector has all the information required to reduce the risk of disruption or no-one being available. In addition, emergency contact details for at least three people who can be contacted should no-one be present on the farm will need to be provided. Emergency contacts should include individuals who may know the whereabouts of the farm manager/owner and/or are able to accompany the assessor at the audit. Assessors will wait up to an hour for someone to arrive or get in contact and be able to start the audit. Producers need to be aware that if an unannounced audit cannot be carried out it is classed as failed and the cost will be charged to the farmer.

What form does an unannounced audit take?

Each unannounced inspection will take the form of a focused spot check, so shorter than a routine announced audit. If non-conformances are identified they will be reported back to Red Tractor in the normal way and the member will be categorised in the same way as at the routine audit, and the certification body will be notified of the outcome and any necessary action.

What is the appeals process so I can dispute my risk score and who makes the ultimate decision? 

Appeals against non-conformances found during routine inspections (if the member does not agree that it was a non-conformance) will still be dealt with by the farm’s chosen certification body. If a producer wishes to appeal against their risk rating, this should be done directly to Red Tractor. The Red Tractor Appeals Procedure can be found at https://tinyurl.com/y4kmuacf

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