Make it compulsory
By Robert Harris
ALL companies in the food chain should be forced by law to register with an approved assurance scheme to avoid further potentially damaging food scares, says UKASTA chairman, Helen Raine.
Dr Raine believes the UKs UKASTA Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) and the recently introduced Feed Materials Assurance Scheme (FEMAS) standards are the best in the world, and is pushing the EU commission and others further afield to use them as a benchmark for the global food chain.
"I am asking for the European Commission and individual governments to support the aim that anyone who wants to work in the whole chain should be registered. It should be a legal requirement," says Dr Raine. "No one can force individual companies to join such schemes, but the law can.
"We are trying to protect ourselves from another scare that knocks the food chain."
UFAS ensures safe feed production, while FEMAS is designed to ensure that actual feed materials are assured. All feed compounders who wish to supply farmers in the National Dairy Farm Assurance Scheme must register for UFAS accreditation by Oct 1 this year, and merchants must follow 12 months later. UFAS links into all other major farm assurance schemes, including the various combinable crops schemes, Assured British Pigs and Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb.
UFAS is the scheme that will become most familiar to farmers looking to buy assured feed for their stock. The scheme is also recognised by leading retailers.
Feed material suppliers will have to sign up to FEMAS by July 2004, and compounders will have to source their feed from them. "Its prime aim is safe feed for safe food," says Dr Raine.
"Most feed-related scares, including recent European examples, have originated in the raw materials used in animal feed rather than in the manufacturing process. Anyone buying from a UFAS-assured merchant or compounder will, in time, know they are buying assured ingredients." This includes imported feedstuffs, like soya, so if farmers want non-GM product, they can be sure of getting it.
Dr Raine is in no doubt that the UK leads the world in food-chain assurance, and she is ready to export those ideas beyond the EU.
For, when it comes to imported goods, she admits that the rigorous checks possible in the UK are not feasible on a global basis. "We cant check every farm, though FEMAS will ensure that we can go further back along the chain and put more rigorous checks in place.
"But, if we can get the whole of Europe on board, it will be much easier to expand it. It is very early days, but we are already working on a global programme.
"To farmers who say we are not doing enough to assure imports, all I can say is that it is coming. FEMAS will be a UK requirement in July 2004; I can see a time when the EU will insist on it, and I think we will see an assured global market in the not too distant future. We are doing everything we can to ensure that happens."
She believes farmers should play their part, too. "Many farmers have committed large sums of money to becoming assured. They were the ones who made the first step, and the rest should catch up." *
Helen Raine believes there will be an assured global market soon.