28 November 1997

Food safety concerns bring a unified approach to assurance

TRACEABILITY and farm assurance in Holland have been rationalised into one system which covers all livestock systems and production factors.

At the Utrecht show, Hans Schouwenburg of Hollands product board for livestock, meat and eggs, explained that Dutch and German consumers greatest concern was food safety.

"Some years ago retailers and producer groups in Holland began introducing assurance schemes based on differing parameters," said Mr Schouwenburg. "This caused confusion for the consumers."

The commodity board, therefore, established a single assurance mark for all livestock produced in the Netherlands. Entry to the scheme – which also governs feed production from raw material to feed bin – is voluntary.

Retailers, producers and consumer groups were consulted when it was devised and the scheme is discussed regularly by the board and can be added to or have elements removed depending on market requirements.

For example, group housing is an emerging issue. Although only 5% of the national herd is kept in welfare friendly systems, British retailer Tesco is refusing to source pigmeat from systems which do not meet the welfare requirements in the UK. The commodity board is, therefore, devising a group housing requirement for the ICM scheme.

Hygiene and transport regulations governing cleanliness at the slaughtering stage have also been introduced this year. "And next year a clause will be added governing hygiene on farms because consumers want to know that animals are kept hygienically and that feed is stored carefully, as Dutch consumers are concerned about pathogens such as salmonella."

Secretary of Dutch federation of animal feed manufacturers, Herman Heuver, said everyone involved in livestock production had to work from the basis that they formed part of the food chain.

"Feed mills also fall under ICM, and records and production of feeds are checked twice annually."

Testing is carried out for drug residues, toxins and bacteria.

"Any samples which fail to meet standards can be traced back to the farm or merchant supplying the raw material."

Information that they have provided a poor sample is made available to all buyers and other suppliers, which inevitably causes the guilty party to lose all of its custom. "It may seem a harsh method but it acts as a deterrent and we must have an assurance that is absolute," he added. &#42

Single assurance mark for all Dutch livestock… Hans Schouwenberg.