05 August 1997
Oxford company wins NFU contract

OXFORD-based Checkmate International has won the job of carrying out routine checks on the production standards of horticultural farmers who join the National Farmers Union Retailer Partnership scheme.

Part of the Assured Produce Scheme, Checkmate defeated a number of companies vying for the top job when they presented a cost-effective tender for the scheme over three years.

Checkmates role is to police guidelines on safe and environmentally responsible crop production for those horticultural farmers who join the NFU Retailer Partnership. The NFU is hoping that about 6,000 producers will eventually join the scheme with registration starting in October.

The NFU Retailer Partnership consists of seven multiple retailers including Asda, CWS, Somerfield, Marks & Spencer, Safeway, J Sainsbury and Waitrose, with the NFU representing farmers.

Supermarket chains source the majority of their produce from big horticultural farm companies making it difficult for smaller farmers to secure markets. But Assured Produce Schemes such as the NFU Retailer

Partnership were initiated with the idea of combating this problem. Assured Produce Schemes also demonstrate to consumers that fruit and vegetables are being grown safely and responsibly.

NFU Retailer Partnership chairman Mark Tinsley said the cost of membership will vary between £175 to £275 a year depending on the size of the holding and the type of crops registered. Producers participating will complete an annual self-assessment questionnaire, which will be followed up by periodic inspections by Checkmate.

“Checkmate International proved to us in the selection process that they could act as an effective registrar and be credible as providers of an independent inspectorate. The company is a leading accreditation and verification organisation with significant experience in the food sector,” Mr Tinsley said.

“We are confident the company will bring the all-important independence factor to the scheme as they have no other involvement in the production end of the food chain,” he said.