The Red Tractor Assurance is owned and operated by Assured Food Standards, an independently operated, non-profit company started by the British farming and food industry. The Red Tractor was established in 2000 and aimed at addressing 3 major issues in the supply chain of farm food production namely food safety, animal health and welfare and environmental protection. This is done by enforcing a set of standards of sound agricultural practices co-written by experts, farmers, customer and other industry members to ensure that all minimum requirements are met. Food that are endorsed by the Red Tractor logo are said to be of a trusted quality.
The Red Tractor assurance scheme covers several production sectors namely beef and lamb, pigs, poultry, crops, fresh produce and dairy. The dairy sector is further broken down into 14 standards that address pre-farm, farm and post-farm procedures. In this paper we will be discussing these standards and some their roles in ensuring food safety.
Dairy Scheme pre-farm standards
i. Documents and Procedures
This set of standards aims to ensure that all food produced by the farm is safe and legal by establishing clear procedures. Farmers are required to keep a copy of the scheme on-site for easy reference. They are also required to document systems and plans for management of emergency situations and complaints. Any new production site is required to be checked and approved by the certification body before it can be utilised.
ii. Staff and labour providers
All farm personnel are to undergo an induction program, training and a period of supervised work before they are assessed on their competency and allowed to work independently.
iii. Environmental protection and contamination control
Products and chemicals that could potentially pollute the environment, such as chemicals, animal waste, feed by-products, pesticides and herbicides should be used and disposed of responsibly. They should be stored securely in clearly labelled containers.
Dairy Scheme farm standards
iv. Traceability and assurance status
To ensure traceability, all livestock must clearly identified and possess an identification document, which must follow the animal everywhere. All movement, births and deaths must be recorded and kept up to date.
v. Vermin control
There should be no trace of vermin activity in production areas, livestock living areas or where feed is kept. Where vermin control is contracted out to external companies, there should be a documented agreement to specify the scope of duties. Baits used should be safe for livestock and humans, and environmentally friendly.
vi. Milk Production
Milk harvesting area has to be well structured so as to avoid cross contamination between farms by humans or vehicles. All physical structures in the production areas and milk storage systems have to be clean and well maintained. This includes frequent temperature checks and strict cleaning procedures. Strict water quality checks are in order regardless of source. Milk is stored at 6 °C or lower. Points of access into the facility are secure and locked at night to deter unauthorised access. There should be sound milking practices that include keep the udders clean, tests and inspection to check for any abnormalities in milk or udder, and maintaining high hygiene and health standards amongst staff.
vii. Housing, shelter and handling facilities
Housing and roaming areas for livestock should be comfortable, dry, clean, safe and provide shelter from weather conditions such as rain or sun. Livestock in confined areas should have enough space to express natural behaviour.
viii. Feed and water
Livestock should be fed rations suited to each of their individual needs based on lifestage and function. Sufficient food and water should be easily accessible to the whole herd. Mixed rations must only contain approved ingredients and recorded.
ix. Animal Health and welfare
The scheme sets criteria to ensure that livestock receives high standards of welfare when ill or during handling. Their health is proactively managed via a herd health plan, which is developed by the farmer and veterinarian. Veterinarians are required to monitor the herd performance via regular performance reviews, and recommend changes to the existing plan accordingly.
x. Artificially reared youngstock (calves and lambs)
Artificially reared young livestock are given comfortable, clean and safe living conditions of adequate size. They must be fed enough milk of good quality to maintain a healthy development, and have unrestricted access to fresh drinking water at all times.
xi. Biosecurity and disease control
Farms must establish their own biosecurity policy to prevent the spread of disease within and across different farms. This includes measures such as foot and vehicle dips, dog deworming programs and on-site disinfecting protocols.
xii. Animal medicines and husbandry procedures
Treatment of sick animals with prescription drugs should only be done by qualified veterinarians, after which farmers are to abide strictly by the withdrawal periods before allowing the animal's meat or milk to be consumed.
xiii. Fallen stock
Carcases of dead or euthanized animals must be removed promptly and stored in covered containers away from milk production areas, when they cannot be collected immediately.
Dairy Scheme post-farm standards
xiv. Livestock transport
When transporting live animals, the scheme requires strict observation of their welfare. The animals should be kept safe, comfortable and subjected to the least amount of stress as possible. Unless specified by a veterinarian, sick, very young or heavily pregnant animals should not be transported.
These standards maintain food safety in several ways. Firstly, it is means of controlling physical, chemical and microbiological contaminants. Sound milking practices such as cleaning and inspection of udder, milk tests and strict staff hygiene minimises contamination by bacteria or foreign materials such as soil or excreta. A facility that is well built with maintained fixtures and equipment ensures that the milk is stored at optimum temperature in a clean environment for maximum freshness. Milk should not be contaminated by rust from ill-maintained tanks, dust, or residue from broken fixtures like light bulbs. Effective vermin control prevents the spread of rat transmitted diseases such as Salmonellosis, Leptospirosis and Listeriosis via urine and excretions.
A sound herd health plan is a key factor is maintaining food security. Biosecurity measures such as vehicle dips, foot dips, disinfecting protocols, restricted access to facility and proper staff attire ensures that there is no contamination within or across different farms. A sound vaccination program will protect consumers from milk-born diseases such as Anthrax, Q-fever, Listeriosis and Salmonellosis. The plan ensures that all milk produced from livestock within a withdrawal period from treatment drugs will not be sold to consumers as it contains drug residue. The herd health plan also allows veterinarians to monitor culling rates and the possible transmission of zoonotic diseases via sale of meat.
During a disease outbreak, the scheme's strict processes to ensure traceability from the animal's birth to table are vital in ensuring food security. If a batch of milk was found to be unfit for consumption, authorities must be able to trace the contamination and recall all affected batch from shelves. Ideally the source of contamination, either animal or process related, is identified and rectified.
The scheme, coupled with a wholesome herd health plan, is effective in producing milk safe for human consumption to a certain extent. Whilst the scheme's scope covers pre-farm, farm and post-farm processes, it does not address pasteurization and post-pasteurization handling.
A study on milk-borne diseases conducted in 1993-2006 revealed that the infections were caused by Campylobacter spp., Escherichia coli, Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., Brucella spp., Listeria spp., Shigella spp., Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, and Bacillus cereus (3). All of these infections are bacterial in nature and can only be eliminated by proper pasteurization process.
In three other separate studies, it was found that another source of milk-borne disease was caused by norovirus, a virus with a human reservoir, suggesting contamination post-pasteurization. The contamination was attributed to improper storage and improper handling of the products after marketing (4-6).
Healthy sale practices, such as disposal of expired product and storage of milk in adequately low temperatures should also be given emphasis in ensuring food safety.
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