By Marianne Curtis

DESPITE promises of a single assurance scheme for British red meat heard at the Langford Food Industry Conference, progress is too slow, critics claim.

Assured British Meat (ABM) chairman Lord Lindsay told delegates at the Bristol event last week that progress was being made towards a single scheme.

“Many major milestones have already been reached, including link-ups with existing schemes to harmonise standards and rationalise the assurance process.”

But producers, the NFU, National Beef Association (NBA) and British Pig Industry Support Group (BPISG) worry that progress has been too slow.

They also highlight confusion over what ABM will achieve for producers and consumers.

Welsh beef and sheep producer and Farmers Weekly contributor John Davies says the industry needs one scheme with a mark that is easily recognised by the consumer.

“I questioned Lord Lindsay about this at Smithfield last year and he said it was only weeks away.

“It is vital that we get less duplication and more common sense. ABM claims it will become the overall British standard, but the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association wont be part of it,” he says.

NFU head of livestock, Steve Rossides would like to see a single scheme in each livestock sector.

“In the pig sector there are four schemes, but standards should be common so producers are not precluded from supplying whoever they like.”

BPISG chairman Stewart Hewston has first-hand experience of the problems.

“I am a member of FABPigs and the Malton assurance scheme. To the ordinary pig producer there appears to be no difference between them, but being in both creates extra paperwork.

“It is important to have one nationally recognised scheme. At meetings last year, Lord Lindsay said ABMs scheme would be running by January.”

NBA chairman Robert Forster favours fewer schemes and a quality mark to differentiate British beef, with its higher welfare and quality standards, from imports.

“ABM could be the means through which this is achieved. But it will be a struggle because the biggest retailers will want to keep their own label for product differentiation from their rivals. This leads to customer confusion,” says Mr Forster.

Tesco at least is willing to accept an ABM label when it is available, according to its agricultural manager Chris Ling.

Confusion reigns over whether there will be an ABM sticker to apply to product packs, denoting a common standard.

MLCs Mick Sloyan is not convinced of the need for a sticker. “ABM is an independent certification body ensuring that confidence is given to the retailer and consumer.

“I do not know whether there is any intention for an ABM logo to go on packs.”