Irish beef exports face difficulties as UK moves to ‘lifetime’ quality assurance

Red Tractor (the UK’s leading farm and quality food assurance scheme) has announced that it is to move towards lifetime quality assurance in beef.

Commenting on this issue, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) stated that any moves towards whole-life assurance by Red Tractor would undoubtedly pose challenges for Ireland, in terms of equivalence of quality assurance (QA) schemes when accessing the UK market.

However, it also said the Bord Bia QA scheme is well established, internationally accredited and is very comprehensive with many additional facets including the measurement of carbon footprint for every Irish beef farm.

Despite this MII says were Red Tractor to adopt whole-life assurance, this could pose additional complexities on Irish exports in terms of maintaining existing access to those UK retailers that currently buy Irish beef.

“This potential move highlights the importance of maximising the number of Irish beef producers that are participating in the Bord Bia QA scheme, to ensure that we maximise the percentage of the animal’s life which is spent on QA farms,” it said.

IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said full lifetime assurance adds significant practical challenges at farm level and delivers nothing extra from the market in terms of reassuring the consumer about the high quality and standards of beef.

Burns said the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme in Ireland is very thorough, fully accredited internationally and also incorporates important sustainability principles.

Red Tractor

The Red Tractor decision came following a review of the responses to its consultation on the issue which took place earlier this year.

It said a consensus of views showed that the delivery of lifetime assurance for beef is an important objective to protect the integrity of the Red Tractor brand.

Red Tractor accepted that responses have also identified some continued concerns about how this might be delivered, for example the need for systems to check the assured status of animals through their lifetime.

Northern farmers condemn announcement

The announcement by Red Tractor has been condemned by the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU).

Earlier this year, the UFU rejected proposals made by Red Tractor to introduce lifetime assurance, citing concerns about the increased cost and bureaucracy this would create for farmers with no evidence it would bring additional financial returns from the market.

UFU President, Ian Marshall, said from the beginning of this process farmers highlighted their anger at how Red Tractor had proceeded with a consultation on lifetime assurance before consulting about whether it is necessary.

“This is well documented in Red Tractor’s concluding report which explains that there are a significant number of objections to their proposals and that there were clearly more farmers against them than supported them,” he said.

Marshall added that this was not surprising given the lack of detail in the consultation about where the demand for lifetime assurance was coming from, how they expect to deliver it and how it will bring any financial benefit to farmers.

“Without the funding that farmers provide to run the scheme, Red Tractor would not be where they are today. I find it deeply disappointing that they have chosen to ignore not only the majority of farmers who have taken part in this process but also processors, auctioneers and other industry organisations who see little value in these proposals,” he said.

Marshall said that while Red Tractor had taken this decision, urgent discussions will now be necessary with all industry stakeholders before this goes any further.