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Our Quality Standard Mark means business, say producers

by 5m Editor
11 March 2004, at 12:00am

UK - Pig producers have to show consumers and retailers that the Quality Standard Mark means business. This was the prevailing message from a debate on the subject last night at NPA's East Midlands meeting.

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THE VOICE OF THE UK PIG INDUSTRY

NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & Whitehall, and with processors, supermarkets and caterers - fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

1. SUPPORT FOR MORE RIGOROUS ASSURANCE

Following the showing of BBC's "Food Police" programme, which featured a substandard unit in East Anglia, producers agreed that assurance should be about more than ticking boxes. There was also support for a campaign to promote the Quality Standard Mark.

"Producers now have a choice of four certifying companies; inevitably the temptation is to choose the cheapest - and the cheapest will be the one that can do the job quickest, not necessarily the best," said John Godfrey.

He stressed that assurance should be about more than ticking boxes. "Ticking boxes is not enough. The inspectors have got to spend time looking at the pigs."

The meeting heard that if British pig producers were to raise their game they would need to look at assurance with a different mindset. It should be viewed not as something to be endured, but as a valuable management tool to help them improve their pig keeping.

"We can pretend as much as we like but if we do not continue to be genuinely better than our competition then we will be found out," said NPA regional manager Ian Campbell.

BPEX representative Meryl Ward who had asked the meeting for its views on the Quality Standard Mark said: "The main message that comes through to me tonight is that above all else the assurance scheme has to stand up."

2. SUPPORT FOR MARKETING CAMPAIGN

The feeling was, she said, that the time was right to spend money on promoting the Quality Standard Mark if producers were to maintain their premium. Only recently Morrisons had decided to take the Quality Standard Mark off all their packs "and they have only just decided to reverse that decision, after a lot of pressure."

If retailers were to continue to keep the Quality Standard Mark on their packs they had to see some marketing behind it.

"Do we want to carry on supporting it?" she asked the meeting. "The general view in BPEX is that it is essential. There are dangers in relying on the Little Red Tractor as the sole supporter of British pork standards."

3. A NEW LOOK FOR THE MARK?

The Quality Standard Mark could be given a new look this year, the East Midlands meeting heard. Instead of the British Meat logo in the middle, it might feature a Union Flag - something producers have desired ever since it was launched.

But there is a quid pro quo. The Mark could also go on imported meat that meets British standards, with the flag in the middle indicating country of origin.

The background is that as the Mark is funded by a legally enforceable levy it has to comply with EU rules so five years ago, when it was introduced, details were sent to Brussels.

"It recently emerged from the Brussels in-tray, where it has been sitting for five years, with a NO sticker on it," explained Meryl Ward. "It is deemed to be too British because of the British Meat logo in the centre."

Bizarrely, there are indications that Brussels would find the Union Flag acceptable in place of the British Meat logo, something English producers would have preferred all along.

But Brussels has reminded the Meat and Livestock Commission that the Quality Standard Mark must be accessible to imported product.

(It always has been accessible - but nobody has asked, not least because there is not much imported pork that meets Britain's higher standards.)

If the design of the Mark is to evolve to include the Union Flag, then Brussels will want to be convinced that it is genuinely accessible. "You might have French product carrying the Quality Standard Mark, with a French flag in the middle of the Mark," said Meryl Ward.

BPEX, she said, had to respond to Brussels, and the response might involve a redesign of the Mark.

Source: National Pig Association - 10th March 2004

5m Editor