Farm assurance standards for the UK poultry sector are to be raised later this year as part of a drive across the farming industry to keep standards up to date and meet customer expectations.
The Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) scheme, which covers 75% of all UK agricultural production, seeks to introduce changes to boost animal welfare, biosecurity and compliance from poultry producers, starting from November.
Across all poultry species, each crop will require the light intensity to be measured and recorded at bird eye-level to confirm that farms are meeting the standards. Photo: Ronald Hissink
The consultation, which closes in early March, spells out the following proposed changes:
- Across all poultry species, each crop will require the light intensity to be measured and recorded at bird eye-level to confirm that farms are meeting the standards.
- Lighting for ducks is to be phased on and off over a 30 minutes dawn-dusk period with a new recommendation for windows in all buildings which house ducks.
- Only slower growing breeds can be used for free-range chicken production to ensure that breeds are suitable for the method of production.
- Biosecurity standards are being revised and simplified to help consistency and ease of auditing. Requirements have been grouped – for example site access for people, site access for vehicles, hand cleanliness, and footwear.
- Bulk feed disinfection will become a separate audit point from existing cleaning and disinfection requirements.
- There should be a minimum 5-day turnaround between poultry flocks.
- Multi-age sites will have to give more details on how they operate, showing how entrances and staff are managed across the farm complex.
- All chicken enterprises are now grouped together, including the new enhanced welfare module. This will ensure core requirements are standardised across all enterprises and species.
The RTA scheme is also proposing changes across all sectors. These include measures to protect the environment, including the inclusion of the Farming Rules for Water, which aim to reduce soil erosion and nutrient run off.
Selling free-range eggs online
New Zealand free-range layer farmer Bruce Greig was faced with a drop in demand due to Covid-19 lockdowns. He immediately started selling his eggs online and saw consumers return and his business boosted to new heights.
Building worker welfare into the standards
It also wants to build worker welfare into the standards to ensure members are taking sensible steps to protect the safety and wellbeing of workers on-farm. UK agriculture’s health and safety record is poor, and farming is identified as an at-risk sector for labour exploitation. As part of this, each site will need to nominate a welfare officer. Jim Moseley, RTA chief executive, said standards had to be kept up to date to make sure that British produce is well-placed to capitalise on the new trade opportunities stemming from the UK’s exit from the European Union. In a letter to members seen by Poultry World, Mr Moseley writes: “Having an accreditation assurance scheme that is not only recognised by consumers and the supply chain, but also understands how farmers operate, will be essential as we enter a period that will mean great change for many farmers.”
While comments on farming forums were negative, with producers arguing that the measures would pile on costs, the NFU said members should respond to the consultation. Stuart Roberts, NFU deputy president, said it was vital farmers voiced their opinion and continued to influence the assurance standards Red Tractor provides. “Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that our standards on food, whether for animal welfare, food safety, or environmental protection, meet the needs of both farmers and the public.”