Farm Assurance and Standards for High Quality Pork

By Livestock Knowledge Transfer, UK - This article explains the available farm assurance schemes and the standards required.
calendar icon 1 May 2003
clock icon 4 minute read

What is farm assurance?

Farm assurance schemes are membership organisations that provide an assurance to consumers on compliance with certain written standards. These standards are designed to deal with food safety, animal welfare and environmental concerns which are a large part of the consumer’s definition of quality.

What schemes are available?

Pig farmers can choose to join a variety of schemes depending on their farming system and potential market. The following are some examples:

Assured British Pigs is the largest scheme in England and Wales. The Scottish Pig Industry Initiative operates an equivalent scheme in Scotland.

The Freedom Food scheme is designed to maintain high welfare standards that have been formulated and monitored by the RSPCA.

Organic Certification by sector bodies such as Soil Association and Organic Farmers and Growers implement European regulations and United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards (UKROFS).

Real Meat Company is a relatively smaller scheme that has its own code of practice and also retails meat via various outlets

What are the standards?

Most schemes as a minimum include the relevant legislation for food safety, animal welfare and protection of the environment.

The standards cover many aspects such as stocking densities, floor conditions, medicine use, nutrition, availability of water, training and management of sick animals.

Schemes tend to go beyond legislation in certain areas. For example most schemes require a veterinary health plan that requires farmers and vets to plan, monitor and update preventive health programmes and husbandry systems.

Freedom Food standards make specific requirements for bedding materials and farrowing accommodation in indoor pigs.

Organic standards include specific requirements for diet and veterinary treatments.

The farm assurance process

In most schemes an assessment visit is made to the farm to assess compliance with the standard. The certification body may perform this inspection directly or as in the case of Assured British Pig scheme, a separate organisation may be used to perform the inspections. The reports of the farm visit are sent to the certification body who may request the farmer to make certain improvements.

Farmers pay a fee for membership that varies between schemes (eg ABP Large Standard Category £225 + VAT). In addition there are often costs associated with compliance with the various legal and assurance standards.

The organisations performing the inspection and certification function may be accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) giving certain assurances on the competency and impartiality of the certification system. Organic certification bodies are monitored by UKROFS.

Role of private veterinary surgeons

Some schemes use private veterinary surgeons to monitor compliance with the standard between assessments from scheme assessors. In addition veterinary surgeons have a critical role in assisting farmers formulate veterinary health plans.

Do assurance schemes promote British Pork?

Most schemes have co-operated with the British Farm Standard initiative (Tractor Mark) that promotes British produce. Retailers have variously committed themselves to this standard on some or all of their pork products. Retailers claim that they either do or plan to ensure all products comply with equivalent standards including imported products.

Future developments

The rapid development of farm assurance schemes has been associated with rapid changes in standards.

Future developments are likely to include investigations into the ability of the schemes to objectively influence food safety, animal welfare, environmental factors and possibly food quality (taste). In addition those aspects of the standard that disseminate best practice on productivity not conflicting with assurance concerns should be seen as a having a positive impact on the pig industry beyond maintaining market credibility.

Source: Livestock Knowledge Transfer - First published 2001. Added to this site 2003.

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