Animal welfare body the RSPCA has started to roll out virtual farm assessments to ensure the integrity of its bespoke farm assurance scheme.
From Monday (27 April), RSPCA Assured farm members are able to complete their assessments using live streaming on digital platforms such as WhatsApp, Google Meet and Google Hangouts.
The organisation insists that the new measure is temporary, following the suspension of routine physical inspections on 23 March, in line with government social-distancing policy.
Since then, RSPCA Assured has been working with its certification body to develop the new remote-assessment protocols, which have been trialled on a number of farms.
The move is similar to that taken by the Red Tractor farm assurance scheme, which is now rolling out its remote assessments to all those who are due one, and to new applicants, during the coronavirus lockdown.
Live video link
Mark Robertson, a senior RSPCA Assured assessor, said the inspections would be really similar to the physical on-site assessments that members are used to, but without the assessors being there in person.
“Instead, they’ll be on a live video link where they can see the farm, virtually walk around it and direct the member to what they want to look at,” he said.
“It gives me great peace of mind that we can still support our members while ensuring the welfare of their animals during this difficult time.”
The organisation adds that “in-person” assessments will still be carried out on farms where incidents or complaints relating to animal welfare have been reported,
“New applicants are also being reviewed on a case-by-case basis and, wherever possible, we will be conducting remote audits.”
The temporary introduction of remote assessments will also reduce the need for RSPCA Assured to carry out follow-up visits in person, when social-distancing measures are lifted.
Linking Environment and Farming follows suit
The Leaf Marque team is also introducing remote assessments for its farmer members, rolling out a new protocol, in partnership with its certification bodies, from 1 May.
Relevant documentation must be submitted in advance via the Leaf Marque remote audit data room, with the assessment then carried out using a video platform such as WhatsApp, BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams, Skype or Zoom.
“If this is not possible, the audit can involve a phone call supplemented by the business providing documentary and photo/video evidence,” says the organisation.
Extensions of up to six months are available on a case-by-case basis if a remote audit is not possible due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Remote audits may also be deemed inappropriate where the member has a history of non-conformance to scheme standards, the business does not have access to suitable technology, or in the case of a new applicant.