Dairy first for RSPCA

8 May 1998




Dairy first for RSPCA

RSPCAs Freedom Food accreditation, which claims higher

standards than industry run schemes, has been adopted by

milk processor Long Clawson Dairies. To kick off our Quality

Assurance Special Rebecca Austin discovers what

supplying dairy farmers have had to do to comply

RSPCAs Freedom Food accreditation, which claims higher

standards than industry run schemes, has been adopted by

milk processor Long Clawson Dairies. To kick off our Quality

Assurance Special Rebecca Austin discovers what

supplying dairy farmers have had to do to comply

JOHN Collishaw, his brother Richard, and father Bob, milk 130 Holstein Friesians in Hickling, Leics.

Their herd is one a group of 37 supplying Long Clawson Dairy with milk for processing into Blue Stilton cheese, which is the first RSPCA Freedom Food quality assured dairy product. It will be launched this month in Tesco, where the label can already be seen on a range of fresh and pre-packed meats and eggs.

Mr Collishaw is also vice-chairman of Long Clawson dairy and was, therefore, intimately involved in the co-ops adoption of Freedom Foods codes of practice. "Two-and-a-half years ago both the dairy and its producers felt it was time to market themselves on a point of difference," he explains.

"Our primary aim was confidence in our products and the idea of RSPCAs accreditation fitted in with our vision. Discussions with both farmers and the dairy also made it clear that everybody was keen for the industry to come together as a whole and to be seen to be producing a welfare-friendly product."

But initially they decided to audit farms through their own quality assurance scheme once a feasibility study showed the project had potential and all 37 producers were in favour. An independent welfare consultant was called in who drew up a list of improvements for each farm.

"At this point some producers felt resentment at the idea of being policed," he says. "But it was just a matter of changing attitude. Soon we all came to realise that improving welfare on farm through good business and management practice really means welfare equals profit. In the longer term none of us were looking to improve our incomes, the primary concern was, and still is, customer loyalty."

On each farm there were similar areas highlighted for improvement. For example: Improved siting and access of water supply, reducing the number of dead ends in cubicle buildings, the right number of cubicles/cows in herd, and improving lighting in buildings through the use of low level sodium lamps to prevent bullying, reduce stress and improve fertility management.

Producers were set a deadline by which to achieve improvements before the Long Clawson Dairy Standard was established. But at this point, it was decided the natural progression was Freedom Food accreditation, which was already established in major outlets and commanding consumer respect. In fact, they were the first group of dairy farmers to inquire about the scheme.

"But the original Freedom Food draft proposals were too prescriptive so we though we would not be able to get on to the scheme," recalls Mr Collishaw. Soon, Freedom Food came to realise it would never be able to reach its ideal in the farming industry unless it modified its approval, as Vince Cartledge, Freedom Foods technical manager, explains:

"We realised the only way it is possible to make improvements is to work within existing systems. For example, when it came to improving cubicles we conceded there was no need to rip out existing cubicles and start from scratch; it was possible to make the necessary improvements using what was there."

This was a relief to Mr Collishaw, who beds his cubicles with deep litter, a practice Freedom Food has accepted as long as cases of environmental mastitis are under control. In fact, to reach the required standards, Mr Collishaw has only needed to spend about £1000 on improvements. Such a surprisingly small expenditure has been the norm for most of the producers in the group. These included improved light, removing dead ends in cubicle buildings, tin-sheeting a damaged wall in a youngstock building, changing milking machine liners twice a year rather than just once and testing the milking machine twice a year instead of just once

"The secret behind any assurance scheme is a good code of practice," says Mr Cartledge. "Freedom Food feels it has achieved this because we have modified our attitude and continue to draw on the advice of top consultants in every sector of the industry to produce those codes."

Mr Collishaw is unable to categorically state that the improvements he has made have improved the bottom line of his business. "But I can say they have not made things any worse. The point has come when we have all got to set targets to improve areas such as lameness and mastitis and let the results prove what is best."

And Freedom Food hopes to do this by integrating veterinary health plans into its code of practice. Mr Cartledge predicts that within five to 10 years it will be possible to quantify any improvements in the areas mentioned above through these records and to prove that improved welfare can only mean more money in the bank.

Up to now it has been relying on the RSPCAs affinity with the consumer to move the Freedom Food label on the supermarket shelf. "Only once FF has more practical experience can we see how the scheme will develop," says Mr Sharpe. &#42

Long Clawson Dairies Blue Stilton cheese is the first RSPCA Freedom Food assured dairy product. It will be launched this month in Tesco stores.

WATERLANE FACTS

&#8226 130 Holstein Friesians.

&#8226 142ha (350-acres): 49ha (120 acres) arable, rest permanent pasture/leys.

&#8226 Average cow yield 6500 litres; 4.2% protein, 3.3% butterfat.

&#8226 Cubicle-housed.

&#8226 0.2p/litre enhancement on achieving FF standard.

Long Clawson supplier John Collishaw:"Our main aim was confidence in our products and the idea of RSPCA accreditation fitted in with our vision."

FFACTION POINTS

&#8226 Remove underfoot debris from tracks/gateways/around water troughs.

&#8226 Change teat cup liners more frequently.

&#8226 Insufficient bedding depth.

&#8226 Provide/improve medicine cupboard and records.

&#8226 General maintenance.

&#8226 Removal sharp protrusions

&#8226 Repair farm gates/improve security.

&#8226 Provide more water troughs.

&#8226 Milking plant maintenance.

&#8226 Parlour practice/hygiene.

&#8226 Improve feed storage hygiene.


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