Farm assurance bodies have announced the suspension of “physical” inspections as part of measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Red Tractor, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), Farm Assured Welsh Livestock (FAWL) and the Livestock Meat Commission in Northern Ireland have all announced suspensions of physical on-farm assessments.
The UK’s largest food standards scheme, Red Tractor, oversees about 60,000 inspections across 46,000 “assured” farms each year.
In a statement, it said it would carry out remote assessments – in accordance with United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) requirements – and it was “working with our certification bodies to determine what these will look like and the consequences for our members in each sector”.
However, quarterly vet visits for pig farms will go ahead, where producers and vets agree it is safe to do so.
Red Tractor said: “This is an unprecedented time for UK farming and food production, but shoppers and customers are relying on farmers, food companies and the wider industry to provide the reassurance they expect from us.”
The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) said most on-farm inspections for the Lion code had been suspended and it was working on a protocol for remote assessments. “The only physical audit that will take place will be on newly registered laying sites,” it said.
In Scotland, QMS has decided to adopt a planned approach to assessments of its schemes. All routine face-to-face assessments of processors, auction marts, hauliers, pig, cattle and sheep farms have been suspended until at least 19 April.
During this period a remote/desktop assessment programme will be implemented “to ensure that members’ certification continues seamlessly in these exceptional circumstances”.
QMS is suspending all quarterly vet visits and will put derogations in place for the quarterly vet reports that form part of the Pig Quality Assurance scheme. “Our priority is prioritising the health of our farmers and our vets at this time,” it said.
All 7,500 producers in the Welsh Lamb and Beef Producers’ (WLBP) lamb, beef (FAWL), dairy and Welsh Organic schemes have been told that physical on-farm assessments will be deferred on a rolling basis for three-month period starting from 19 March.
FAWL is exploring options for various forms of remote assessments and more details will be communicated to members “as and when such arrangements can be introduced”.
All face-to-face farm inspections for more than 12,000 members of the Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme have also been suspended.
Farmers Weekly has contacted the four devolved administrations in the UK to request an update on the status of farm inspections for Basic Payment and agri-environment schemes.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We are urgently reviewing what non-critical inspections can be suspended. We intend to continue inspections where not to do so may have a detrimental impact on food production and animal welfare.”