22 March 1996

Too many different schemes can dilute advantages – ADAS

THOUGH recognising that producers and processors have done a good job in initiating milk quality assurance schemes, John Sumner, ADAS head of dairying, believes the next step must be to formulate a single scheme for the entire industry.

"I believe there is a need for a single, practical and achievable set of standards that is independently audited. Though I am pleased the industry has recognised the benefit of assurance schemes, I think the benefit could be lost, or at least diluted, if we have too many different standards," said Mr Sumner.

The aim of quality assurance schemes was to reassure the public not only that cows were well looked after but that farm practice was not environmentally damaging and milk quality was good, he said.

"But this message is not so effective if there are numerous schemes all setting different standards." He added that for a scheme to be credible there had to be independent monitoring, rather than relying on farmers to assess their own performance.

ADAS is currently in discussion with a number of organisations to look at developing standards that could be adopted by everyone. The best points from each existing scheme could be incorporated.

But Mr Sumner is not suggesting that only ADAS would be capable of administering a single scheme. "I do not really envisage ADAS staff going out on to farms to do the auditing. What I would like to see is an industry-funded project to establish a definitive set of standards, and ADAS could tender for that work. But once standards were agreed, then I imagine that each milk buyer would take on the responsibility for their own producers."

Welfare emphasis

Mr Sumner is concerned that some of the codes already published put too much emphasis on animal welfare, with some standards either not technically sound or imposing unnecessary costs on producers.

"I am not trying to hide from the importance consumers attach to good welfare. All I am saying is that standards must also put equal emphasis on milk quality and environmental practice," he said.