By Simon Wragg

FOUR major supermarkets will give a firm commitment to sign up to Assured British Meat (ABM), claims its chief executive.

David Peaces declaration comes a week after auctioneers and organisations under the ABM umbrella slammed the company for lack of progress in signing up the high street multiples.

ABM aims to ensure food safety from producer to consumer, in the next three to nine months.

“I do not want to publish names, but we will see significant endorsements (by supermarkets) being made,” said Mr Peace.

“Many have signed up mentally, but we have to find ways for them to comply which are not anti-competitive.”

Mr Peace told Farmers Weekly that interest was “rampant” among supermarkets.

“At least three multiples other than those already mentioned [Waitrose] are actively seeking ways to take part. “If we only get one, we will have failed.”

Mr Peace denies that supermarkets are snubbing the scheme.

ABM staff had told Farmers Weekly that retailers considered the cost of compliance – thought to be 250 a store – to be too high.

However, he admits final details for inspections have yet to be agreed.

But it is unlikely that all supermarket stores in the scheme will have to be inspected every year, unlike farms, he admits.

Producers representatives, including Farm Assured British Beef & Lambs chairman, Ian Frood, have openly expressed disappointment and frustration at ABMs progress.

“I dont think weve under-performed,” declares Mr Peace, adding that the task of bringing the meat industry together was a three-year plan started in 1998.

“That time is not yet up,” he adds.

Mr Peace accepts progress in signing up members in some sectors has not met his own expectations, particularly in the independent retail sector, but others – including farmers – were “extremely robust”.

He also admits ABM has not kept the industry fully aware of what progress has been made.

The company is on target to be self-funding through membership charges when MAFF grants and Meat & Livestock Commission cash runs out in 2003.

By then, ABM will have received over 6m in funding.

The cost of compliance by farmers, hauliers, markets, meat traders and retailers has not been costed, but is thought to run to millions of Pounds a year.