Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Assured British Meat [and Assured Food Standards] (F 7)


  This memorandum is submitted in response to the Agriculture Committee's request for evidence in relation to its inquiry into organic farming. ABM [AFS] has particular experience and expertise in the area of assurance schemes and it is to this part of the Committee's inquiry that this memorandum will confine itself.

  The paper provides a brief outline of the background to the ABM initiative and explains recent developments that have resulted in the extension of its remit to cover other foods under the banner of Assured Food Standards. The paper explores the current relationship between farm assurance schemes and the organic sector and, in particular, the lack of co-ordination between them.

  Finally the paper proposes mechanisms by which assurance schemes and the organic sector could work more closely together to the benefit of producers and consumers.


  ABM was established in 1997-98 with funding from the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) and MAFF. Its remit was to deliver a robust, integrated food safety assurance chain for the red meat industry from the manufacture of animal feeds through to the point of retail. To achieve this objective, ABM became the co-ordinating body for assurance schemes not just at farm level, but for other parts of the meat supply chain as well, such as feed manufacturers, livestock hauliers, auction markets, abattoirs and meat processors. ABM's basic principle has been to operate Assurance as formal product certification schemes. We operate to the requirements of the European Normative Standard for product certification bodies (EN45011), which demands competence, independence and impartiality at all stages of the certification process, not least the inspection. ABM achieved UKAS accreditation early in 1999. (EN45011 is the same standard as is specified for certification bodies in the organic sector by Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91 on organic production of agricultural products and indications referring thereto on agricultural products and foodstuffs.)

  As the ABM initiative progressed, it became increasing apparent that it was not sufficient to look at the red meat sector in isolation. The food chain is complex and there are numerous points of crossover between the red meat supply chain and other sectors involved in farming and food production. For example, the use of arable crops in animal feeds and the sale of calves from the diary herd for beef production, to state just two. Factors such as these, in conjunction with a desire from many in the industry to reduce the duplication of inspection effort caused by the operation of sector-specific farm assurance schemes, resulted in pressure to amend ABM's remit.

  The new organisation, to be known as Assured Food Standards (AFS), will act as a coalition of Assurance schemes across all sectors of production, including produce, poultry, combinable crops, dairy, as well as red meats. All AFS assurance schemes must operate as product certification schemes following the disciplines of EN45011 and progressing to formal UKAS accreditation. They will share common objectives in establishing good industry practice primarily with respect to food safety, and with appropriate elements of animal welfare and environmental protection.

  The emergence of AFS is also linked to a desire to have a single "certification mark" to identify assured products. AFS will be the licensing authority for the new British Farm Standards Mark, first introduced at the Downing Street Summit earlier this year and to be launched in early June. AFS will also be responsible for ensuring equivalence between assurance schemes and assurance standards and the uniformity of inspection and certification.


  Currently there is little co-ordination between the organic sector and other farm assurance schemes. Whilst the assurances offered by the organic sector are of a very particular nature, and the term "organic" is legally defined and protected, the organic sector is, in effect, providing an assurance to consumers that particular criteria in the production process have been met. In principle, all the other assurance schemes perform a similar function. It is only the nature of the assurances that are offered that differs. To fully understand the differences requires an intimate knowledge of the standards required by each scheme and the way in which they are inspected and enforced.

  The guiding principle of AFS, and the ABM initiative from which it developed, is the establishment of core standards of safety, animal welfare and environmental protection. It is intended that all producers should aspire to these standards and thus ABM has a target of achieving 80 per cent uptake of these schemes—a target which has already been met in some sectors.

  Currently, at the farm level there are some producers who are both organic, or in organic conversion, and are members of an assurance scheme. Many others subscribe to one set of standards only.

  It is AFS's/ABM's assertion that there is inadequate co-ordination between the organic sector and other assurance organisations to ensure that there is equivalence between the safety, welfare and environmental criteria applied. Whilst it is understood that organic standards may cover different criteria to those required by the assurance schemes, or may have more stringent requirements in relation to common criteria, it would be unhelpful for all, especially consumers, if criteria in organic standards did not cover the core issues that have been widely agreed by the food industry and retailers as being essential. In this context the Agriculture Committee's inquiry is particularly timely in view of the current consultation by UKROFS on new standards to define organic livestock and livestock products.

  Additionally, AFS/ABM believes that an opportunity exists to reduce unnecessary duplication of inspection through a closer working relationship with the organic sector. We believe that this would produce benefits for both the industry and consumers.

  AFS has established the British Farm Standards Council which is developing the rules which will govern the use of the British Farm Standards Mark. We believe that many products, including organic foods, will benefit from the use of this mark, which research suggest consumers will seek out as being an indicator of high standards of safe production at all stages. AFS is committed to the principle of whole chain assurance as a means of ensuring that safe production methods in one link in the production process, for example on farm, are not undone by poor practice in another. Inspectors will therefore be active in all parts of the food chain.

  AFS would welcome the involvement of the organic sector, perhaps through representation from UKROFS, on the British Farm Standards Committee. We believe that this will provide a mechanism for ensuring commonality of core standards, and their inspection, across all farm types and in all parts of the food chain, including organically produced foods. Furthermore, in the longer term, we believe it will provide a mechanism by which duplicate inspections can be substantially reduced.

  Provided inspectors are competent to perform the work required, as defined by EN 45011 and EN 45004, and as judged by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), it may be unnecessary for different inspectors to conduct inspections against organic criteria and other assurance standards. We believe that greater mutual recognition of inspectors and inspection bodies across all sectors and throughout all links in the food chain will result in a more cost efficient delivery of assurance schemes including those based on organic principles, to the industry and therefore to consumers. Furthermore we believe that a common approach to such matters, through an over-arching body such as AFS will ensure that labelling at the point of retail is as unambiguous as possible for the consumer and that they can be sure that foods carrying the relevant mark have been produced safely.

  Should further information be required either verbally, or in writing, we will be happy to oblige.

1 June 2000

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