A report released in mid-April has confirmed that farmers in Red Tractor Assurance schemes are complying with “world leading” standards across a wide range of different measures.

Commissioned by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and undertaken by Dungannon based Birnie Consultancy, the 77-page study deals exclusively with beef and lamb, although the outcomes are probably similar for other sectors.

The report looks in detail at requirements in the English Red Tractor scheme (NI beef and lamb has equivalent standards) and how they compare against Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) in Australia and the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP).

The work is relevant given recent trade deals, where the current British government has effectively given open market access to a range of agricultural products, including beef and lamb, from both southern hemisphere countries. In a scenario where UK beef and lamb is forced to compete directly with Australian and New Zealand (NZ) imports, there is clearly an unfair commercial advantage if some farmers are producing against lower standards.

Compounding the issue is the fact many local processors penalise farmers who are not farm assured. Rates of membership are not as high elsewhere, especially in Australia, where “there is still some distance to go in persuading the majority of farmers to participate,” notes the Birnie report.

To compare the Australian and NZ schemes against Red Tractor, the Birnie consultants scrutinised each scheme’s requirements against 14 different categories, including animal medicines, livestock transport and environmental protection. Scores were awarded to each scheme based on how well it addressed questions relating to these categories.

In recognition of the fact management practices differ across countries, a system of weightings was applied for each category relative to England (always given a weighting of 100). An example of this is housing and shelter. Given that beef and sheep are rarely housed in Australia or New Zealand, there is less need for their assurance schemes to focus on animal welfare at housing, etc. A system of weightings was also used to assess the 14 different categories – in practice it means the likes of food safety is given a much higher weighting than categories such as vermin control.

Australia and NZ schemes off the pace

Shown in Table 1 are the final weighted scores for each of the three assurance schemes against the 14 individual categories assessed in the Birnie study. Overall, Red Tractor comes out well ahead, while the NZ scheme (NZFAP) out-performs its Australian counterpart (LPA).

Across the 14 categories, only on one occasion does Red Tractor not achieve a leading score, with the LPA scheme receiving a higher mark for biosecurity and disease control.

The report authors note that the Australian scheme requires farmers to have a biosecurity plan and to know the health status of animals brought onto the farm.

By contrast, Red Tractor “misses some important components which could slow or prevent the transmission of disease,” states the Birnie report. It goes on to highlight practical issues that could be addressed related to record keeping of visitors to a farm, the fact that farmers can take animals to market and bring them back again, and the lack of requirements related to isolation of newly purchased animals.


There are two other areas where the Birnie consultants award the Red Tractor scheme a score below 70%, although in both instances, it still out-performs the NZFAP and the LPA alternatives.

The first relates to livestock transport, with the report pointing out that within Red Tractor there are no limits on distances animals can move, or time limits on journeys, except for young lambs and calves.

The second area relates to animal health and the early treatment of illness.

“Welfare, locomotion and body condition scoring are important indicators of welfare and condition, but are not required for cattle or sheep in the Red Tractor scheme,” notes the Birnie report.


With the Australian LPA scheme achieving the lowest overall mark, it comes in for some significant criticism from the report authors.

Only 3,000 scheme audits are conducted each year and two thirds of these are randomly chosen from across the membership.

“Consequently, many years may elapse between audits, meaning that this scheme appears not to be robust,” states the Birnie report.

Independent experts scrutinise study

To help ensure the findings of the Birnie Consultancy study are seen as credible, four independent experts were recruited to scrutinise the findings of the report. Those experts included Professor Nigel Scollan from Queen’s University Belfast, as well as Dr Jude Capper from Harper Adams University.

Further reports to follow in 2024

The study comparing Red Tractor assurance against similar schemes in Australia and New Zealand is the first in a series to be completed in 2024. Part two will consider beef and lamb assurance schemes in the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany and Spain.

The third part in the series will look at standards in beef assurance schemes in the USA and Canada, while part four will compare Red Tractor with beef schemes in Brazil.