Environment should be a part of audit, says LEAF
By Andrew Blake
WHOLE farm audits which consider environmental issues are the way forward for producers wanting to supply leading food companies.
That is the view of David Richardson, chairman of the six-year-old Linking Farming and Environment (LEAF) organisation which launched its revamped audit this spring. Four big food firms, including Sainsbury, are already asking their suppliers to conduct LEAF audits. Several others are expected to follow suit soon.
Speaking at a Focus on Food Assurance Day at Woodbastwick Estate, Norfolk, Mr Richardson said LEAF was one of the first assurance schemes to embrace crops under a whole farm scheme to assure buyers.
"We have since been invited by a number of organisations to co-operate with them in producing their schemes." Key among these is the NFUs Assured Combinable Crops version launched at Cereals 97. "We co-operated fully with the NFU on this," he stressed. "The LEAF audit is completely compatible with the national scheme, as far as it goes."
But the need to balance consumers demands and ensure maximum uptake by farmers had merited a pragmatic approach, he suggested. "There were times when we felt they should have raised the standards a little higher."
Several firms, including vegetable processor Tenderfrost, believe the market has already moved beyond such basic standards to include environmental aspects, hence their adoption of LEAF, said Mr Richardson.
Project co-ordinator, Caroline Drummond, believes the LEAF audit is seen by firms such as Birds Eye Walls and brewer Shepherd Neame as offering a superior standard.
By undertaking the audit growers can prepare for new supermarket schemes as well as the total quality management and environmental requirements of ISO 9002 and ISO 14000 (the equivalents of BS 5740 and BS 7750), she said.
"Hopefully, by January it will become more quantitative." This should allow producers to determine their own "eco-rating".
For Tenderfrosts Graham Hillier, brought in two years ago to implement integrated crop management at the request of Sainsbury, the environmental aspect of the LEAF audit is key. "If we do not address this issue we wont have a market."
The firm, which processes 50,000t of in-season vegetables a year, has employed full product traceability since the early 1970s. NFU growing protocols are also used, but they are limited to ensuring best input practice, he noted.
With 660 farmers on board LEAF membership is said to be growing fast.
Farm assurance should include environmental issues, say Graham Hillier (left) of vegetable freezing company Tenderfrost and John Purslow, independent agronomist for Woodbastwick Estate, Norfolk.
• Whole farm DIY approach
• Interest from food firms.
• Compatible with NFU schemes.
• Sustainability & safety checks.
• Environmental provisions.
• Eco-rating potential.
• Independent assessment?