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Farm/Food Assurance

Background
Incidents such as BSE and food poisoning scares have raised public concern over how our food is produced and prepared, and all aspects of food production, processing and handling are coming under increasing examination to ensure that the health of the customer is protected.

"Farm Assurance", "Food Assurance" or "Quality Assurance" are terms used to describe various quality control schemes and/or codes of practice that are in place at different stages of food production.

The term 'Assurance' also describes the main objective of such schemes, i.e. to instil confidence or assurance in the consumer that the food product is clean and safe to eat and that there is no risk of becoming ill as a result of its consumption.

The underlying principles behind Quality Assurance are:
1. To identify the potential hazards or risks on the farm or factory.
2. To take action to control or minimise risks.
3. To keep records or documentation where necessary.

It is becoming more and more difficult to sell produce at a reasonable price unless there is a recognised assurance scheme in place on the farm.

Quality assurance schemes & farm enterprises
Quality assurance schemes are now in place for many farm enterprises. These schemes usually have linkages with processors and retailers beyond the farm gate, and thus are referred to as 'integrated' schemes. These schemes aim to provide an unbroken chain of assurance from the farm through to final consumption by the customer. Products sold under such schemes usually advertise this on their labelling, e.g. "from farm to fork".

Integrated assurance schemes are operated by:
Bord Bia (meat, eggs)
Bord Glas (potatoes, horticulture and protected crops)
The Cereals Association of Ireland (cereals)
Co-ops (milk)
Supermarket chains (mainly for meats and other fresh produce)
Local Producer groups (various)

Producing a clean, safe quality product is fully compatible with good husbandry practices. For example, livestock assurance schemes cover the areas of herd health, nutrition, animal welfare, traceability, stockmanship, housing, handling, transportation and environment management.

In each of these areas a code of practice is outlined. This usually takes the form of a brief statement combined with a checklist outlining the requirements for that topic.

The farm inspector uses this checklist in the course of the inspection. As a means of preparation, the checklist can and should be used by the farmer for self-assessment and so ensuring that any farm inspections are relatively straightforward.

Case Study 6: Farm Assurance
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