16 January 1998

All sides must pull together for red meat to prosper

By Jonathan Riley

ALL sectors of the meat industry must work to achieve the target standards set out by the new Assured British Meat initiative if the red meat sector is to prosper, according to farm minister, Jack Cunningham.

At the schemes launch in London on Wed, Dr Cunningham told industry representatives that those involved in the UK meat industry must join the scheme quickly, to give weight to the ABMs integrity in the consumers eyes.

He said the meat sector needed to be more open and transparent, and he warned that ABM had to be genuinely independent from the meat industry to win back consumer confidence – without which the industry would fail.

MAFF would add £1.85m to the £3.2m provided by industry to establish ABM, which will operate as a private company. Chief executive will be former MLC export director Terry Lee, with former Scottish farm minister Lord Lindsay as chairman.

Lord Lindsay said the schemes remit was to unify a wide range of existing assurance schemes and to ensure that the entire industry was covered by a single UK standard.

"The UK meat industry must raise its game to allay consumer concerns. And ABM will set tough standards and champion the consumers interest," he said.

To win and maintain confidence, the scheme will work towards internationally recognised, independent standards set by the UK Accreditation Service.

"All links in the chain will be checked and monitored regularly by independent bodies and, without being prompted, ABM will publicise progress towards target standards, industry participation levels, and pass rates," he said. Any element failing to maintain standards would be exposed.

Entry to ABM will be via existing schemes, such as FABBL and FABPigs. Costs to producers have yet to be determined.

Scottish position

But in Scotland, the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association, which has already achieved international accreditation, remains uncommitted to ABM.

And, at the launch, although FABBL representative Ian Frood welcomed the ABM initiative, he was concerned that eventual running costs would be borne by the producer.

ABMs board will be made up of consumer representative, leading scientist and leading administrator plus three industry representatives: Sir David Naish, NFU president; Richard Cracknell, Federation of Freshmeat Wholesalers; Michael Taylor, director of foods at Marks and Spencer.