07 January 1999
Farm assurance on Oxford agenda

By Isabel Davies

THE implications of farm assurance schemes were put under close scrutiny during a panel discussion at the Oxford Farming Conference yesterday (Wednesday).

Three panellists answered pre-selected written question from delegates:

  • Tony Pexton, NFU deputy president;
  • Martin van Zwanenberg, divisional director for food technology and the environment with Marks and Spencer; and
  • James Wyllie, managing director of Ruchlaw Produce Company and head of the Meat and Livestock Commissions pig strategy group.
All three came out in support of farm assurance, pointing out that consumer confidence is the key to what is increasingly becoming a buyers market.

Farm assurance gave individual farmers a marketing advantage and helped the industry as a whole with its defensive position, Mr Pexton said.

But, although accepting criticism that there were too many different schemes in operation, the panel concluded that it would be difficult to move to a single scheme.

Mr van Zwanenberg said it was unlikely that retailers would work together to come up with a single assurance scheme because they all had different requirements.

But even if it was not possible to secure a single cross-farm scheme, there could be some simplifications made to existing ones, Mr Pexton suggested. If inspections could be done in one go then this would save time and cut down on costs.

And on the issue of the burden of paperwork, it was agreed there was no easy solution. Delegates were told that the real challenge lay in getting the value of time spent on bureaucracy back.

And when the discussion was thrown to the floor there was little opposition to what had been said.

One delegate questioned whether the consumer was aware or even wanted farm assurance but the panellists were united in their belief that a framework to meet customers concerns was essential.

Earlier in the day, UK farmers were told they should accept rather than fight the industrys moves to increased environmental, animal welfare and quality assurance standards.

According to Meine Siebenga, a farmer from Holland, British farmers should not be afraid because they had everything to gain by being ahead of the rest of the EU.

And Martin Potter, head of the RSPCAs farm animals department, added that although, in general, UK farmers had an extremely good reputation for animal welfare, farming would continue to come under increasing public scrutiny.

Farm animal welfare schemes represented one way of reassuring consumers, he said.