27 April 2001
Disease ‘brings assurance to the fore’

By Andrew Blake

ASSURANCE schemes – and public faith in them – may have received an unexpected boost this year, according to a leading proponent.

Public concern about traceability has increased since the outbreak claims Jonathan Tipples, former chairman of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme.

“Consumers care much more about the source of their food than they did two months ago before foot-and-mouth,” says Mr Tipples.

Mr Tipples is National Farmers Union representative on the Assured Food Standards committee, which administers the British Farm Standard logo.

The little red tractor logo shows food has been produced according to specific standards laid down and verified independently.

Only farmers who are members of approved assurance schemes may use it.

“If ever there was an opportunity to market foods produced to British Standards then this is it,” claims Mr Tipples.

But foot-and-mouth also threatens to slow progress towards the unified assurance scheme many believe is needed to avoid confusing consumers, he says.

Plans to bring the Assured Combinable Crops, Assured Produce and Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb schemes together by October may be thwarted.

“The big problem is getting people trained to do the audits,” says Mr Tipples.

“Foot-and-mouth means all audit work is at a standstill. Nobody is visiting farms at the moment.”

Mr Tipples said the NFU research showed that logo is widely recognised but more work had to be done explaining what it means.

Another outstanding hurdle concerns food produced abroad, admitted Mr Tipples.

“We are still trying to get the logo onto cereal products, and with bread at the cheaper end of the market that shouldnt be difficult.

But some upmarket loaves will not be able to carry the logo as the grain used has come from a country without an equivalent scheme, he explained.

Ultimately, and against the views of some farmers, Mr Tipples acknowledges, there is no logical reason why the logo should not appear on foreign produce.

“We have long argued that we want to farm on a level playing field.

“So if somebody in France, say, wants to produce grain to ACCS standards and we can verify they have done so, we should allow them to use the logo.

“We cannot afford to adopt protectionism.”

NEW SERVICE

CLICK HERE to receive FWis FREE new daily email newsletter to keep up-to-date with the latest on foot-and-mouth and other farming-related stories