29 May 1998

ASSURANCE:

REASSURANCE

Earlier this year combinable crop growers in England and

Wales joined the move to assured production.

Here Amanda Dunn seeks an update on progress from

scheme chairman Jonathan Tipples

Q What is your opinion of industry and farmer reaction to the scheme so far?

A "The Scottish scheme initially received a fairly ambivalent response. Were four years behind and the whole world has moved on since then. Industry has been greatly supportive. I cant think of a single sector within the trade that hasnt supported the initiative.

"Five thousand farmers have already shown their acceptance of the scheme by registering. There are still those detractors who say whats the point, it wont make food any safer?. I know that, but were now part of an ever more integrated food chain and if our buyers ask us for simple guarantees of the way grain is produced and stored, then we should be able to provide these."

Q Do you feel the majority of farmers registering really believe in the scheme?

A "Some farmers are very keen, some feel standards should be higher, some take the view this is now a fact of life. Mine is simply to get on with it."

Q What percentage of the UK crop do you anticipate will be verified by harvest 1999?

A "Weve done very well to get where we are now. I hope to see more than half the marketable, crop but well have to wait and see."

Q Can you see a time when the scheme will become compul-sory?

A "I dont want the scheme to become compulsory. You can sell anything at a price and I believe there will always be a market for non-assured grain. The question is how big the price differential will be ."

Q What affect will ACCS have on the marketplace?

A "Although I am aware there are already some niche markets that have sourced solely ACCS grain, I dont believe ACCS will have a great deal of affect on the market place this year.

"Next year and beyond I believe the majority of grain for human consumption will be assured."

Q Of those farms already inspected what proportion are passing first time and what are the main areas for referral?

A "Over 1500 farms have already been inspected, of these the majority passed subject to notices to remedy. Key areas for referral are currently glass in grain stores, bunding in pesticide stores and record keeping where farmers did not know at the time they were supposed to have kept a record.

Q Do you feel the verification cost is appropriate and how long will it be kept at this level?

A "Theres never been a time that farmers need to incur an extra cost less, or that they need a quality assurance scheme more.

"I hope that costs will come down. Certainly SQC have seen a 15% reduction in costs. We havent had the benefit of industry and government financial support as they have, so all our money is borrowed. Once it is paid back and the initial contract period is completed subscription rates will be reviewed."

Q Do you feel verifiers can be too sympathetic and what action is anticipated to ensure they are consistent in their judgement?

A "During training all verifiers are advised not to show favour and a process of constant monitoring is in progress to ensure standards remain the same throughout the country."

Q How can farmers be certain they wont be blamed if a problem arises at consumer level?

A "They will have records at all levels of production. Then, before loading, they will have checked the lorry is clean and will retain a sample from each load.

"Recent concern over haulage standards will alleviate as consumers tip only those hauliers satisfying the UKASTA code of practice."

Q How quickly will scheme standards tighten and who will determine areas for improvement?

A "The scheme was written with the future in mind, which is why areas relating to environmental issues and genetically-modified crops are included. Although standards can only go up, were currently under no pressure to increase them.

"Were not supermarket controlled. We have four farmer board members and a farmer chairman, so any new standards introduced wont come in at the whim of just anyone.

"New legislative changes will obviously need to be encompassed and any areas relating to a food scare will be reviewed quickly."

Q Will the use of cleaned beef yards for the storage of of grain eventually be excluded?

A "I dont see any reason why they should be. I am concerned that excluding livestock buildings would write off a significant amount of grain storage in the west and Scotland. The board would require much persuasion that such storage would pose a high risk."

Q How can UK farmers be confident that ACCS will not be superseded by a European scheme with different stipulations?

A "The differing nature of member countrys legislation means it will be almost impossible to introduce a universal EU scheme. Continental interest is currently being shown in ACCS. We are keen to promote the initiative to foreign counterparts."

Q Do you anticipate that in time the ACCS logo will be used on foods produced from assured crops?

A Unfortunately, however nice it would be to see the logo in supermakets and elsewhere, we are advised that due to liability problems we cannot use the logo to promote anything other than our own scheme."

ACCS chairman Jonathan Tipples… Hopes to

see more than half the marketable crop assured by next harvest.

ACCS PROGRESS

&#8226 5000 farmers applied.

&#8226 1500 farms approved

&#8226 No plans to raise standards imminently.

&#8226 Scheme to remain voluntary.