ONE SCHEME FOR BEST ASSURANCE
Is farming following the best
route to providing assured
food quality? One training
professional thinks not and
CWS Agriculture agrees.
Edward Long investigates
WHY should arable farmers have to comply with the requirements of several different quality assurance schemes, when they would be better served by adopting a single industry-wide protocol?
That is the question Warwickshire agricultural training consultant and farm managers wife Rosie Barfoot is asking.
She is sure quality assurance will bring great benefits to the industry by reassuring consumers. It is also likely to be part of GATT and EU food producing requirements.
"Salmonella, E coli and BSE scares mean consumers are sceptical about verbal reassurances on food safety," points out Mrs Barfoot, whose husband Ken manages 1820ha (4500 acres) at Ashby St Ledgers near Rugby. "Implementation of a farm assurance scheme, with independent verification, provides a golden opportunity to prove home-produced food is the best in the world.
However, consumers want assurance, not a welter of information, she argues. "I recently conducted a small survey outside a local Waitrose store and found consumers do not want more information about food, they just want to know it is safe to eat. This could be done by adopting a single credible and transparent scheme."
The current plethora of schemes means farmers with a range of crops, or a mixed arable/stock business, might be required to pay a lot in registration fees, Mrs Barfoot notes. A single comprehensive scheme covering food safety in general, and tailored to the needs of each sector of the industry, would be a better approach, she maintains.
She is keen that primary food producers adopt the same Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) scheme that is used in the rest of the food chain, both nationally and internationally.
The concept was originally developed by NASA to eliminate risks in food being sent into space. It has since been widely accepted across the food industry.
It is based on an assessment of specific risks within the production system, rather than a broad-brush, tick-box protocol. Assessments are made within set parameters and hazards removed.
"HACCP is now used by the whole food industry, apart from farmers. It applies all the way down from the plate put in front of a diner in a restaurant to the farm gate where it stops.
"For enhanced consumer confidence it would make more sense for it to apply seamlessly from plate to plough. It is likely that the new Food Standards Agency will want the approach to apply to primary producers." Rather than pursuing a systems-based approach to qualification, HACCP hinges around staff training so all the food safety implications of farm actions are taken into account.
"Farmers and their staff may need to undergo professional training. This will show commitment to the QA approach and replace the lip-service that prevails on some farms. The aim must be to give consumers confidence that food is being produced to a very high standard which can be verified by independent assessors."
Mrs Barfoot is keen to organise appropriate training.
Produce assurance inside the farm gate should reflect approaches used further up the food chain, say training consultant Rosie Barfoot and CWS quality assurance manager David Leavesley.
• Consumers want quality assurance not information.
• HACCP seeks hazards and removes specific risks.
• Food industry uses it, so why not farming?
• Staff training key to success.
• 3-4 years of HACCP experience.
• First used for vining peas.
• Other veg followed.
• Cereals scheme now in place.
• Includes other scheme needs.
• Keen to see HACCP adopted across farming industry.