code for all?
Milk quality assurance schemes seem to be flavour of the month in the dairy industry. But is a valuable opportunity to reassure an increasingly welfare-conscious public being lost because there are too many schemes? Shelley Wright starts our Milk Special by reviewing some of the main codes and asks if there should be one scheme for the whole industry
MOST of the milk assurance schemes have been devised by individual milk buyers and will apply only to their members.
Major schemes have already been published by The Northern Milk Partnership, Unigate, and Milk Marque. Only one set of standards is available that could be applied to the whole industry, the RSPCAs Freedom Food scheme.
The codes vary from Unigates where farmers self-assess their own performance, to the RSPCA scheme where producers have to pay a fee to cover monitoring and assessment.
Although Milk Marque is planning to use self-assessment initially, it has indicated that independent third-party spot checks will be introduced early next year.
All schemes are based on the "Five Freedoms".
Another common feature is the five-point plan to minimise mastitis. And all the schemes agree that cows should be confined closely, in limited circumstances only for example, inspection, treatment or while waiting to be milked.
Two documents have been produced, "Superior Stockmanship" covering animal husbandry and welfare, and "Unigate Farm Environment Scheme" which sets standards for farm appearance and management.
The environment scheme has a 150-point check-list which must be completed monthly. It includes maintaining the farm drive, keeping the entrance tidy, and having a farm nameboard displayed.
On general farm appearance, Unigate demands that "unsightly features" are screened; shrubs, trees and flowers are planted; historical features are maintained.
The company says its welfare standards are "intended to reflect the best scientific, practical and commercial routines, coupled with common sense."
"The Welfare of the Dairy Cow" will be circulated to all MM members in April. This quality assurance scheme was devised with supermarket chain Sainsbury.
The code says that cattle should be inspected once a day for signs of injury, illness or distress. And while MM shares the view of the other codes that compound feeds must not contain mammalian meat or bonemeal, it goes a step further and says that "purchased feed and/or its components must be from traceable sources."
And the MM scheme implies livestock markets are not the preferred outlet for cattle. It says: "Where cattle have to be sold at markets, they must be handled by all parties in a humane and compassionate way at all times."
The code recognises that the welfare of cattle at slaughter is not directly under the control of a producer. But it states: "It is expected that farmers will take reasonable precautions to ensure that their cattle are handled and slaughtered in a humane and compassionate manner." Cattle must be stunned before slaughter, it adds.
NORTHERN MILK PARTNERSHIP
The NMP Star Initiative was launched in November, in conjunction with Northern Foods, and is based on quality, traceability and welfare right through the chain from cow to consumer.
The objective of the initiative: "To ensure that our customers are confident that acceptable production practices are adhered to on the farm, and in the dairy and distribution chains."
The Star Initiative sets targets above those already defined as minimum for NMP producers.
RSPCA FREEDOM FOOD
The RSPCA describes its "Welfare standards for dairy cattle," as based on the latest scientific dairy welfare research, coupled with the common sense and practical approach of industry.
This scheme is the most detailed of the four, and is the only one to rule out the use of livestock markets.
Cull cows must be sent directly to the abattoir, while bought-in calves must come straight from a farm not through a mart. Accreditation allows producers to use the Freedom Food logo.
• A herd nutrition plan should be established.
• Loose housing should provide enough space for all cows to lie down together and lying areas must be non-slatted.
• A significant mismatch between cubicle size and cow size must be corrected within 2 years.
• Stock must be inspected twice a day.
• Cows due to calve must be inspected every two hours.
MILK MARQUE CODE
• Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition.
• Freedom from discomfort.
• Freedom from pain, injury or disease.
• Freedom from fear or distress.
• Freedom to express most normal patterns of behaviour.
• Cows must not have to compete for food.
• Calves must not be muzzled.
• In summer, a shaded area must be accessible to all cows at the same time.
• Mastitis targets of SCC less than 250,000 and TBC less than 10,000.
• Footbaths must be provided.
• Calves tails must not be used to direct the animals.
• Cattle must be stunned before slaughter.
• Sufficient trough space to minimise competition for food.
• Tied byres not recommended.
• All housed cattle must be able to lie down together, and must have a non-slatted lying area.
• A training plan for stockmen.
• De-horning to be done only by a vet.
• No antibiotic failures.
• Somatic cell count below 130,000 cells/ml and TBC below 10,000.
• A veterinary herd health plan must be designed.
• Cattle must be inspected twice daily.
• Comfortable, dry lying areas must be provided.
lAppropriate training for stockmen.
• De-horning of mature cattle only by vets.
Does your farm practice meet milk buyers quality assurance scheme?