A recent case of animal neglect on a Dorset farm has highlighted red flags with the Red Tractor accreditation systems, says Andrew Livingston
Once again, farming has been cast under a dark shadow – this time a lot closer to home. Last month, a farmer from Kingston Russell, near Dorchester, was charged with offences relating to animal cruelty.
In April last year, Trading Standards visited the farm with a vet from the Animal and Plant Health Agency and found an appalling sight which has once again created negative press towards agriculture.
Pens of calves had a mix of healthy, severely sick and even dead calves. The pens, feeding equipment and water troughs were all dirty and a badly injured and lame cow had been left with no visit from a vet for over three months. Out in the fields wasn’t much better according to the report. The visitors had to free a calf who had got caught in wire and had been left in a field and a large variety of animal bones and skulls were recovered from the land.
The punishment for the mistreatment of all these animals? The farmer who ran the property was fined £52,000 for the neglect.
In my personal opinion, they have got off lightly – I feel anyone found mistreating animals should be banned from keeping them for life and face prison time.
Red Tractor approval?
I know for some farmers things can slowly build up until it is difficult to work out how to return to once-high welfare standards. But once you keep animals, it’s a commitment that you cannot break. Partners and family need to know that their needs come after your cows, corn or pigs.
So how had it got to this? Until April last year, the farm in question was certified with Red Tractor status. However, Trading Standards had been visiting for six years to ensure that changes were being made to the welfare of the animals.
Did Red Tractor know of the previous poor animal welfare? The accreditation company should surely have been aware that the farm and its animals were in a poor state – otherwise what is their point?
The farm is now banned from Red Tractor accreditation for two years, another stick with which to beat the farmer. But I would bet my house on the fact that the organisation has offered no support to the farmer in question since his ban.
Of course there is no excuse for animal abuse, but when standards slip on a farm it usually correlates with troubles in the farm manager’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Despite my anger toward the farmer for what he did to those animals, I am still concerned for the individual – agriculture is a lonely business with a high rate of suicide.
This case suggests that Red Tractor don’t appear to have systems in place to continuously care for accredited farmers or their animals.
Instead, the Red Tractor accreditation seems to attempt to protect animals simply by increasing farm paperwork.
I do believe that the individual in question should have been banned from keeping animals. But even if he had, it’s got to be up to accreditation companies like the Red Tractor to help farmers who have made mistakes to transition and learn – not just throw the book at them and then move on.
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