22 March 2002

Assurance credibility at risk as abuse continues

By Amanda Dunn

WHILE most farmers support and participate in cereal quality assurance schemes, a minority are still abusing them and jeopardising their credibility, claims one West Midlands farmer.

"The vast majority of farms in our area are quality assured and those that arent sell their grain as non-assured. But I know of several growers in this area abusing the system," says the grower, who will not be named or provide further detail for fear of recrimination.

One farmer working for his unassured neighbour passes grain off as his own assured produce, he claims. He sells it to a consumer as assured grain, receives payment for it and then forwards money to his neighbour less an appropriate commission.

"I have been approached to do a similar thing for two other non-assured growers. It annoys me that I have spent £2000 to get my farm assured, while others abuse the system. But my biggest fear is that it will only take a few people to get sussed out for the whole scheme to lose credibility.

"The scheme is more public confidence than anything else. After foot-and-mouth you would have thought people had learnt a few lessons about how fragile farming really is." All concerned are mixed farmers from the West Midlands area says the 180ha (450 acres) farmer.

Elsewhere in the country suggested exploitation of the scheme is met with surprise and anger.

"I have not heard of anything along those lines. Everyone around here is assured and adhering to the scheme," says mixed farmer David Greasby, of Wallingford, Oxon. "Anyone not complying with rules and regulations should be blackballed. They are ruining it for everyone else."

"I wouldnt have thought it was possible," adds mixed farmer Robert Carmail, of Lawnhead, Stafford. "Farmers do not work together well, so there would not be many neighbours willing to take such a risk."

Farm manager Joe Scott of Ashby St Ledger Farms, Warks has not heard of any scheme abuse. "I dont know of anyone who has abused the scheme, but it will ruin its integrity if it persists," he says.

Bedfordshire grower David Anker reminds farmers it is purely a voluntary scheme. "These guys do not have to be part of it, but if they do carry on, theyll mess it up for everyone."

Growers really do not need to abuse the scheme, says trader Robert Kerr. "There is still a market for non-assured grain. We have homes in the UK which are collectively looking for over 1000t of non-assured grain a day." &#42

Its a trading standards issue, warns ACCS

ACCS company secretary Liz Kerrigan warns growers exploiting the scheme in this manner, that the issue goes beyond simple scheme contravention.

"This type of abuse is illegal and becomes a trading standards issue. If you pass something off as something that it isnt, my understanding is its against the law. We are quite happy to send an investigator into a potential abuse situation, but we cant do that unless were given some evidence," she adds. "Information offered will be handled in complete confidence, with utmost discretion and no recriminations."

An independent investigation carried out last year for ACCS reported very little scheme abuse, she adds.