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
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.
MEAT (ABM) AND
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
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
schemesa 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