19 August 1997

National dairy assurance

plan to focus on welfare

PLANS for a national dairy farm assurance scheme for England and Wales were announced yesterday at the European Dairy Farming Event.

For the past 18 months, the NFU has been developing the code of practice in conjunction with the dairy companies and the British Cattle Veterinary Association. But, according to union milk committee chairman Hugh Richards, there remains a lot of work to do and independent on-farm inspections are still more than a year away.

With milk quality and safety already checked by milk buyers, the new assurance scheme will focus on cow welfare and health. It is intended that it will replace the plethora of individual schemes currently in operation.

If accepted by NFU members, the assurance scheme will require milk buyers to register as members. Those firms will then be responsible for employing farm inspectors. It will be up to the dairy companies how, and if, they pass back the charges to farmers.

Mr Richards said costings for the scheme had yet to be worked out, but he did not believe that inspection charges passed back to farmers would amount to any more than 0.03p/litre of milk produced. With the dairy companies coming under increasing pressure from retailers he believed that, in future, those not meeting the schemes standards would not be able to find a market for their milk.

The inspectors will have to complete a college course designed specifically for the assurance scheme. No final decisions have yet been taken on how regular the inspections should be, but the NFU hopes every participating farm will be inspected within three years of joining.

Farm standards will not be rigid, with only yes or no answers in terms of compliance. Mr Richards said assessments would be based on accurate and meaningful health records which producers will have to keep, along with routine veterinary monitoring of herd health.

So, if a farmer had a serious mastitis problem one year but his vet, backed up by farm records, showed that the problem had been tackled and the disease incidence had fallen, that should satisfy the inspector. &#42

Hugh Richards: Non-assured milk might not find a buyer.