24 November 1995

Milestone cow-to-buyer milk scheme launched

By Tim Relf

THE UKs first cow-to-consumer milk quality assurance scheme has been launched by the Northern Milk Partnership.

Quality, traceability and animal welfare are the key areas of the Star Initiative, which begins on Dec 1.

The aim, according to the NMP, is to guarantee that milk has been produced and handled to prescribed standards on the farm, in the dairy and throughout the distribution chain.

Richard Smith, NMPs chairman, says the scheme has been introduced in response to growing consumer interest in how food is produced.

He concedes, however, that it will not be possible to trace a carton of milk from the shop shelf back to the individual farm. And while the scheme will help suppliers maintain a position at the right end of a two-tier market, it will not yield a direct price premium.

Basic quality requirements for farmers supplying NMP remain unchanged. But the new initiative does incorporate an awards scheme.

To qualify for this, producers must have TBC counts of less than 10,000 and somatic cell counts of under 130,000. Despite being "hugely demanding", many of the 1100 farmers who supply the NMP already meet these criteria, claims Mr Smith.

Welfare standards, meanwhile, are based on MAFF recommendations, with added guidelines on stock inspection, mastitis control and veterinary product use.

In an increasingly discerning marketplace, others will be forced to follow suit, suggests Mr Smith. There could come a time when there will be little or no market for foods that do not offer these sort of assurances, he adds.

And though milk produced under the Star Initiative will not initially be branded as such, this is not ruled out for the future.

&#8226 Northern Milk Partnership is matching Milk Marques seven month bonus of 0.3p/litre to all members as it continues to honour its pledge of a 1.2p/litre premium for average quality milk during the first years trading.

The bonus has gone out in Novembers milk cheques, a month ahead of Milk Marques payout.

Richard Smith says quality assurance will become the norm in the milk business.