4 April 1997

Step nearer dairy quality

for national standards

A NATIONAL quality assurance scheme for milk has moved a step closer, offering independent auditing of standards on UK dairy farms.

Initiated by the NFU at last years European Dairy Farming Event, the framework code of practice has now reached the "nitty gritty" stage.

"Many dairies are already pressing ahead with their own assurance schemes," said NFU milk adviser Julie Smith. "We now aim to produce a core set of national standards that can be independently verified to provide an extra layer of guarantees."

A small working party, made up of representatives from the NFU, the major co-ops and leading dairy companies, will meet later this month to decide exactly what to include and what penalties should apply for falling short of the standards.

Areas such as milking practices, animal housing, nutrition, welfare and staff training will feature strongly.

The plan is to have an independent inspectorate, jointly funded, which will audit a sample of farms each year to check that standards are being met.

"Milk production is becoming increasingly open to public scrutiny," said Dr Smith. "Supermar-kets are keen to bring in their own schemes, but we believe the industry should be setting the standards and driving this forward."

Unigate head of agricultural affairs, Brian Pocock, who will sit on the working party, said that he welcomed the idea, so long as the national scheme addressed customer issues as well as farming ones. It should not contradict with what individual companies were doing and should not mean farmers getting overrun with auditors.

"The national scheme should aim to do a few things well, rather than get too immersed in every detail. Our six key categories of good stockmanship might be a good starting point," said Mr Pocock. (see Livestock, page 48.)

The NFUs target is to have something up and running by the autumn. &#42