In the last six weeks, food assurance auditors at Lloyd’s Register (LR) have completed over 2,000 remote audits on farms in the UK and South America on behalf of Quality Meat Scotland, Red Tractor, Scottish Quality Crops and Global Animal Partnership.
Technology has enabled food safety compliance audits to continue despite restrictions for on-site auditing, with farmers of all ages embracing the opportunity to maintain their certification schedule and demonstrate their commitment to providing safe food for consumers everywhere.
Head of agriculture at LR, Stephen Sanderson said: “The last six weeks have proven that the methodology works and, as these audits are now providing an example to other farmers, we are seeing a significant uptake in the number of remote audits booked for coming weeks.
“While younger, more tech-savvy farmers were the first to easily adopt remote audits, we’re now seeing older generations move to do the same. More and more farmers are seeing the benefits of remote audits, including being able to overcome the challenges of species-specific biosecurity requirements and geography of location. Retailers are also embracing remote assessments and we’re working with both Marks & Spencer and Tesco to deliver their audits and training for their suppliers following a successful pilot.”
While relatively new for some, remote audits have been around for a considerable time. However, the recent challenges around running audits on-site has led to many standard owners seeking alternative ways of working.
Stephen continued: “This is a more agile approach that reduces on-farm time required while increasing the number of in-depth and focussed discussions we can have around particular areas of concern. We can use remote technology to monitor improvements made following root cause analysis and corrective action taken. This ultimately reduces the burden of auditing on-site for the farmer, protects the integrity of the scheme or standard more effectively and helps the farmer demonstrate their commitment to ethics and animal welfare.”
Animal welfare has been very much in the public eye recently thanks to the National Farmers Union (NFU) campaign lobbying UK Government to ensure that all imported food has been produced to the same high standard as British farmers. The online petition has now reached over 600,000 signatures from the British public.
Stephen commented: “As a farmer before I joined LR, I’m very proud that this matter has received consumer attention – it’s taken a long time and significant financial investment to receive world class recognition of the high standards of British farmers. It’s been hard fought and hard earned.
“Importing substandard quality products undermines all of this work and damages consumer perception. If you ask British farmers to lower costs to remain competitive with cheaper imports it has the potential to impact on animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards.”
British farmers do benefit from exporting premium products into niche markets worldwide, providing substantial opportunities for UK farms. Standard owners such as QMS have utilised their robust brand integrity programmes to develop this export market potential which includes Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Denmark in the EU and Hong Kong and Canada further afield.
“Brexit will mean that UK farmers will no longer have access to EU funding packages. There will need to be Government recognition around how it will support UK farmers going forward in the form of subsidies or grants that support animal welfare and sustainability initiatives – and help improve farm business resilience,” added Stephen.
What does this mean for farmers outside of the UK?
“At LR we have a wealth of experience to help farmers elsewhere in the world meet UK Standards through compliance management,” said Stephen. “The overall message here is that we want to support farmers whose ambition is to provide food that’s sustainable, efficient, environmentally friendly – and which has ethical animal welfare at its core.”