By Aimee Mahony, NFU chief poultry advisor
The recent review of Red Tractor standards has been a hot topic of conversation for everyone in agriculture and following a lengthy consultation, scheme members will shortly be receiving version five of the standards which they will be assessed against from the 1 November 2021.
I’m always mindful that for most of our poultry meat members being accredited by Red Tractor is essentially a pre-requisite for getting their product into the market, so making sure the new standards are as practical and fit-for-purpose as possible is key.
NFU poultry board members who sit as representatives on the Red Tractor Technical Advisory Committee or Red Tractor poultry board have been involved in the standards review throughout the process and the NFU provided a comprehensive response to the consultation. I’m pleased that we’ve seen movement on a number of our suggestions, particularly clarification around how some of the requirements will be assessed, as I believe this will be beneficial for producers when it comes to meeting the standards.
For example, following member feedback we supported the strengthening of standards for Mycoplasma testing for breeder layers, the need for a heat stress policy to be implemented on farm and further alignment of the chicken standards for hatchery eggs with turkeys and ducks.
However, there will always be areas where there has to be compromise and despite NFU representation resisting the change, Red Tractor are upgrading the recommendation to have 3% windows to a full standard, making it a requirement for all broiler, poussin and free-range units by October 2023.
We strongly feel that Red Tractor needs to work very closely with growers on this area and understand how this works practically and viably for a business. For example, if you were planning to knock down your poultry shed in 2025 which currently has 1% windows and either replace it or stop producing chicken, it simply does not make business sense to put 3% windows in by 2023. We have indications that Red Tractor will be mindful to these sorts of challenges on a case-by-case basis and we continue to work with them to help communicate key messages to the poultry sector.
Speaking of challenges, we know that many of our members are currently affected by labour shortages. Whilst it may not be something you are directly experiencing on farm, a lack of workers throughout the supply chain is having a wide impact and we are working closely with government to highlight the issues being faced and ultimately working towards practical solutions for the businesses affected.
The recent announcement that some food workers can apply for exemptions for isolation was positive, particularly for those in processing and packing, but it’s disappointing that the scheme doesn’t cover the entire food chain and that farm businesses will miss out. We continue to raise the issues that labour shortages present to the sector and why it’s important the whole food supply chain is covered in future announcements.