SAFETY FROM FARM TO MENU
Assured British Meat is the food and farming body charged
with delivering food safety assurances from farm to table.
Rebecca Austin has the story
ASSURED British Meat (ABM), officially launched on Jan 14, has established itself as the definitive safety assurance scheme for the meat industry and its products.
The board of directors (see panel) is currently compiling a set of production standards for every stage of livestock production and distribution, abattoir practice and meat processing, as well as meat distribution and retailing. Main issues under scrutiny are food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection.
Its objective is, within 24 months, accreditation by the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) as the certifying body for the meat industry. Only then does the board believe consumers will have the assurance that meat and meat products are both safe to buy and wholesome.
Funding to the tune of £5m has been provided by MAFFs Market Task Force (£2m) and the Meat and Livestock Commission. However, within three years ABM is expected to be self-financing and predicts core running costs will be about £600,000/year.
Ultimately the cost of ABMs administration and all independent industry inspections will be borne by companies joining the voluntary scheme.
ABM aims to cover 80% of red meat products within the first three years. Its standards have been designed to ensure that views of all involved in production, retailing and consumption of meat and meat products are taken into account.
Initially, standards suggested by each industry sector must encompass – in some cases exceed – legislation and codes of practice already in place. Once ABM receives this draft it is tested with representatives from other sectors of the industry and consumer groups. Only when appropriate amendments have been made will ABM adopt those standards.
Independent auditors, such as Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb (FABBL) covering livestock production, are appointed by ABM but the cost of inspections and administration will be met by scheme members. Any business found not to be complying with ABMs standards will either be set a time limit by which corrective action must have been taken or have their certificate revoked.
ASSURED British Meat must be credible, not only to experts, but also consumers and retailers, says Lord Lindsay, ABMs chairman.
To help achieve this credibility, research has highlighted areas critical to consumer confidence. These include:
• Independent standards, certification, verification, inspections and monitoring.
• International accreditation.
• Full integration both across and between each sector of the industry.
• A system easily understood by consumers, retailers and caterers.
"There is wide recognition ABMs objective – an independent, fully integrated safety assurance scheme – is a crucial priority, not only for consumers both here in the UK and in our export markets, but also for the future of the meat industry," says Lord Lindsay.
But, he adds, although ABMs objectives are in essence both simple and logical, the challenge remains due to the size of the UK meat industry.
"There is some £14bn of output and hundreds of thousands of operators to consider. Take three sectors alone: Over 120,000 livestock farmers, 12,000 butchers and 300,000 catering outlets," he explains. "And as well as being one of the largest food chains, the meat industry is also one of the longest with eight or nine separate links making up the chain between producer and consumer. It is also so complex due to significantly diverse circumstances both between those eight or nine sectors and very often within them."
As a result the industry remains an anathema to the public at a time when it has not welcomed or is comfortable with outside scrutiny. And, says Lord Lindsay, it has to cope with the fact that turning a farm animal into a product on a plate is often disturbing to the sensitivities and ethics of modern consumers.
"However, there is widespread determination and strong support that the job must be done," says Lord Lindsay. "ABM has already begun developing the necessary safety standards and protocols with most sectors of the industry – especially pigs through FABPigs Scheme – and we are determined to do the job." *
ASSURED BRITISH MEAT
• Independent body to guarantee food safety from farm to plate.
• Standards verified by independent UKAS accreditation.
• Aims to have 80% of beef, sheep and pig producers achieving ABM standards within three years.
Lord Lindsay, ABM chairman, inspects meat cuts at St Merryn Meats, Bodmin, Cornwall… ABM intends to assure safety from farm to plate.
ASSURED BRITISH MEAT BOARD
• Chairman: Former Scottish farm minister Lord Lindsay
• Directors: Richard Cracknell, managing director Anglo Beef Processors; Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Flyde, former general secretary of print union SOGAT, chairman of Housing Corporation and telephone service watchdog ICSTIS; Prof Anthony Diplock, chairman of Biochemistry and Molecular Division and co-director of the Free Radical Research Group at Guys and St Thomas Hospital; Suzi Leather MBE, worked in consumer representation since 1978, member MAFFs consumer panel, its steering group on Chemical Aspects of Food Surveillance and the Nutrition Task Force Project Team on Low Income, also chairman of Exeter and District Community NHS Trust; Sir David Naish, former NFU president; Michael Taylor, divisional director, Marks & Spencer responsible for fresh produce, horticulture, meat, poultry and fish.