UK farm assurance inspections suspended

Three of the UK’s main farm assurance bodies have announced all inspections will be suspended as part of measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Red Tractor, Quality Meat Scotland and the Livestock Meat Commission in Northern Ireland have all issued statements.

Red Tractor

Red Tractor audits over 46,000 British farms and products worth over £14 billion to the UK economy. However, the scheme has now been forced to suspend all physical inspections until further notice.

“We are facing the greatest health crisis in a generation,” a spokesman said in a statement posted online.

“During the next few months, the core foundations that hold the UK together will be tested – food production being one of them.

“Shoppers are relying on farmers, food companies and the wider industry to continue as normal wherever possible and, at the time of writing, that is what Red Tractor intends to do.

As this health crisis deepens, we continue to review our policies daily to ensure that we have the right systems in place to protect the health of our members and their assessors, whilst protecting the integrity of the scheme.

“This is an unprecedented time for UK farming and food production, but shoppers and customers are relying on farmers, food companies and the wider industry to provide the reassurance they expect from us.”

Red Tractor said it had consulted with the Food Standards Agency and other enforcement bodies before making the decision.

“We have earned recognition arrangements with and members can be reassured that these arrangements will be unaffected by the decision to suspend assessments.

“This includes earned recognition around dairy hygiene inspections as well as food and feed hygiene inspections carried out by local authorities.

“For pig members – where both the member and the vet mutually agree it is safe to do so, then quarterly vet visits can go ahead.”

In order to maintain certification to the Red Tractor scheme, there will be a requirement for the certification body to carry out a remote assessment in accordance with UKAS requirements.

The statement added: “We continue to work with our certification bodies to determine what these will look like and the consequences for our members in each sector.

Certification bodies will confirm this to those members affected and we will provide more details on our website as soon as it is available.

If members have any questions or concerns about how this will affect their individual certification, please contact your certification body who will continue to manage your Red Tractor certification on your behalf.

See separate position relevant to Red Tractor Meat and Poultry Processor Members and Licensees.

Certification Body contacts

Producers who have any questions or concerns about how this will affect their individual certification, please contact your certification body, who will continue to manage your Red Tractor certification on your behalf.

  • NSF Certification: 07775575836;
  • SAI Global: 01908 249973;
  • Lloyds Register: 0131-335-6643;
  • NIFCC: 028-9263-3017;
  • QWFC: 01970-636688.

Scotland

Over 90% of Scotland’s breeding cattle population, around 80% of breeding sheep and almost 100% of significant pig farming businesses are members of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) farm assurance schemes.

The assurance body outlined a planned approach to inspections of its six schemes.

All routine face-to-face quality assurance visits to processors, auction marts, hauliers, pig farms and cattle & sheep farms will cease for a minimum period of one month.

During the cessation of physical assessments, a computer-based assessment programme will be implemented to ensure that members’ certification continues seamlessly in these exceptional circumstances.

The process will involve members submitting information via email or post to form part of the certification process.

The physical assessment of the premises will be undertaken once it has been agreed that this type of assessment can take place.

This assessment will be required to formalise the full certification of the membership. Further details on this programme will be sent to the members who are due an assessment.

All members of the assurance schemes must still pay their renewal fees to keep continuity of membership.

Quality Meat Scotland chief executive Alan Clarke said: “QMS has been closely following the current Scottish and UK government guidelines on what steps should be taken to protect ourselves and others from the coronavirus.

Our priority is the health and safety of our staff, our contractors and our quality assurance members and, as we move into one of the busiest times of the year for producers, it is essential that we play our part in ensuring that their health is protected by providing workable solutions which still continue to underpin our world-class standards.

QMS will be continually reviewing the advice from the Scottish Government and updates will be issued as required.

For more information on the revised assessment inspections, contact: [email protected].

Northern Ireland

All face-to-face farm Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) inspections have also been deferred.

FQAS has over 12,000 active scheme members in the region, many of whom, LMC warns, are at increased risk of severe illness from this disease outbreak.

Speaking following the announcement, LMC chief executive and FQAS board chairman Ian Stevenson said: “Given the exceptional circumstances and acting on the advice of government on social distancing measures the FQAS Board unanimously agreed that every effort should be made to safeguard the health, well-being and safety of our FQAS members and inspectors, and therefore, face-to-face inspections have been deferred.”

LMC said it would closely with its certification body Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification (NIFCC), to determine how to can collectively maintain the robust nature of beef and lamb assurance in Northern Ireland within the limitations imposed by the current challenging conditions.

“FQAS continues to operate and participants’ assured status will continue to be certified during the period of inspection deferral,” Stevenson said.

“Members whose renewals fall due will be invited to pay the annual renewal fee in order to continue their participation in the scheme. Members will be advised to pay online during this period.

In these uncertain times, human health must be the top priority. This action had to be taken, is in line with guidelines published by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) for management of extraordinary events or circumstances and is supported by our supply chain partners.

“There are various forms of remote assessments that are currently being considered and more detail on this will be communicated to FQAS members in due course. Inspectors will only return to farms when it is safe to do so and this decision will be informed by government advice.”

Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep industry is critical to the Northern Ireland economy and the Covid-19 outbreak brings focus on the importance of domestic food supply and the value of farmers and food producers to the nation.

“The FQAS Board will be working to chart a path through this challenge but for now the key is to protect public health and minimise the spread of this disease,” Stevenson added.