LMC: Farm Quality Assured Scheme Sees Membership Interest25 February 2013
UK - Market experts at the Livestock and Meat Commission consider the popularity of the farm assured label in the light of the horsemeat scandal.
The Northern Ireland Beef & Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (NIBL FQAS) was introduced to give consumers assurances about the farm end of the production chain with three key pillars: animal welfare, food safety and care for the environment. These messages have recently been communicated to consumers through an intensive media campaign by LMC.
The scheme helps to provide consumers with assurances that Farm Quality Assured Beef and Lamb has been produced on farms certified as operating to designated assurance standards including their quality of care for animals and the farm environment, their freedom from use of unnatural substances and their compliance with legislation.
The scheme is owned by the LMC on behalf of the Beef and Sheep meat industry and has been in operation now for 20 years. Farm Quality Assured Status is a requirement of trade with many of the major retailers and food service operators in the UK and export markets and has acted as a useful tool when seeking access to key markets for NI beef.
As a result incentives were put in place to encourage producers to become a member of the scheme. Until recently processors have applied a penalty of around £30 per head on cattle without FQ status but how stringently this penalty was applied was closely linked with the availability of cattle for slaughter and market outlets for the end product.
The importance of FQ status in the marketing of beef has been further confirmed in its inclusion in the criteria for the 8p/kg bonus currently being implemented across the plants for in spec cattle.
However in light of the European wide horse-meat crisis involving processed beef there has been a renewed interest in the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme due to the enhanced assurances on traceability and safety which the scheme provides.
In recent weeks the majority of the major processors in NI have increased penalties for non quality assured cattle to encourage more producers to become members of the scheme.
Penalties for non quality assured cattle now range from £45-75 per head across the plants with some plants reportedly refusing cattle that do not have FQ assured status. With the annual fee for
membership of the FQAS scheme currently £55 (+VAT) the cost of membership of the scheme is potentially less than the penalty for non assured status on one beef animal.
The increasing importance of Farm Quality Assured status in marketing beef has resulted in a marked increase in the number of applications to the FQAS scheme over the last few weeks with in
excess of 140 application packs issued in the last month.
Farm Quality Assured status has been an important tool in marketing beef produced from prime cattle for a significant number of years with the proportion of prime cattle with FQ assured status exceeding 80 per cent since 2003 and peaking in 2012 at 96 per cent.
It is obvious from these statistics that a large majority of producers finishing prime cattle are members of the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme and recognise the financial benefit of scheme membership to their farm business.
The increase in the penalty for non Farm Quality Assured stock and the tighter application of these penalties has resulted in an uplift in interest in joining the scheme from dairy producers presenting cows for slaughter and suckler beef producers who may not be finishing any prime stock but will be culling cows.
Figure 2 outlines the differential in prices paid for Farm Quality Assured and non Farm Quality Assured R3 grading steers between October 2012 and February 2013. Over the period in question there has been a higher price paid for Farm Quality Assured R3 grade steers but in recent weeks the differential between quality assured and non quality assured stock has widened significantly.
In the week ending 08 February 2013 the price differential was 22.1p/kg and with an average R3 steer carcase weight of 365.9p/kg the average differential in price was £80.77. This compares to an average price differential of £35.18 between FQ assured and non FQ assured steers when considering the twelve weeks ending the 28 December 2012.
While this significant increase in the financial benefit of FQ approved status on finished cattle in recent weeks has boosted the number of applications to the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme it is
important to also highlight the other benefits of scheme membership.
Farm Quality assured farms have a reduced likelihood of selection for statutory cross compliance inspections under GAEC (Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions and Food and Feed law) due to a lower risk profile of non-compliance. The FQAS inspection can also be viewed as preparation for a Cross Compliance inspection from DARD.
A NIBL FQAS inspection has similarities to some aspects of a Cross Compliance inspection and does not require any additional information than what is required in a DARD inspection. Some producers therefore view the FQAS inspection as an ‘MOT’ of their current farming system and a useful tool in
identifying any potential problems related to beef and lamb production.
In addition to this the FQAS offers participants the opportunity to rectify non-conformances over a period of time without any financial penalty, aided by the provision of a dedicated FQAS Liaison Service by LMC to help rectify any problems that arise at FQAS inspection.
This service includes the provision of the FQAS helpline and the provision of monthly FQAS clinics in marts across NI. The FQAS scheme strives to remain up to date with current legislation and farming practices and as such relies on the inputs of the representatives from the beef and lamb agricultural industry which form the FQAS Board and Standard Setting Committee.
These groups represent all areas of the industry and currently consist of representatives from UFU, NIMEA, DARD, NBA, NSA, NIAPA and LMC.
At present the NIBL FQAS is treated as equivalent to the Red Tractor Assurance Scheme operating in Great Britain and as such NI FQAS beef qualifies for the Red Tractor Logo.
With a large percentage of our beef destined for major UK customers this is an important marketing tool for the processors to access markets. The scheme is also important in accessing some EU markets.