7 April 2000

Theres no need for heavy-handed beet scheme

Sugar buyers want

reassurances that the crop is

grown safely. Edward Long

reports on British Sugars

approach to delivering that

assurance, without creating

a burdensome scheme

SUGAR is safe to eat and British Sugar intends to keep it that way.

But while an expansion of the auditing scheme is possible, BS says it has no plans to introduce compulsory assurance.

For the past three seasons it has operated its Food Safety Audit on almost 600 fields, representing 3% of the nations 170,000ha (420,000-acre) crop. The main aim is to check that what growers use conforms to good farming practice and that there is no risk of contaminants reaching processed sugar products.

"Some form of crop assurance is needed to reassure our customers that what they eat is what they think it is and there are no hidden surprises," says BS technical services manager, Simon Fisher.

"Following the recent food scares it is vitally important to ensure that the public perception of sugar is of a pure product. Our customers are starting to ask how the crop is grown and we have a duty to ensure everything is above board and are able to prove it."

BS has checked its sugar, molasses and animal feed products for traces of pesticides and pathogens for 10 years to prove they are safe to market. Nothing has approached EU threshold levels.

"It was a natural progression to extend testing to involve the crop as well as the beet-derived products," Mr Fisher says. "Since 1997 we have audited 600 or so fields across the major beet growing areas of the country, monitoring what has been applied to the land during the six months prior to drilling and to the crop through to harvest."

There is absolutely no need for a heavy-handed assurance scheme for beet, as auditing over the past three seasons suggests growers are adopting a sensible approach to pesticide use and using only approved products according to the label recommendations, he says.

"But we need to continue with auditing to ensure public confidence in the home-grown product is maintained. This will have no impact on growers who keep adequate records. But we are considering extending it to take in a larger proportion of the national crop to provide even stronger proof that sugar is safe to eat," Mr Fisher says.