9th March, 2016
ICSA today (Wednesday 9th March) met with Bord Bia to thrash out widespread farmer frustration with the Quality Assurance Scheme audits and the proposed new producer standard. ICSA president Patrick Kent said that ICSA was extremely alarmed at suggestions that old cows, old bulls and old rams might not be accepted as quality assured even from a fully quality assured farm. “The potential for meat factories to completely refuse to handle such stock cannot be contemplated and ICSA is adamant that any efforts to put this into the new rules would be totally unacceptable.
These animals are already excluded from meat factory bonuses so any efforts to deem them as not quality assured must be treated with the utmost suspicion. Farmers will feel that some factories would refuse to slaughter such animals with the result that other factories would expect to get these animals for peanuts.”
“ICSA is also vehemently opposing any mention of specs in the new Bord Bia standard, even in the introductory paragraphs. ICSA does not accept any suggestion from the meat industry that a 430kg carcass is sub-standard in terms of quality nor will we accept any reference to age limits in any official document setting out rules for farmers. ICSA is alarmed that the meat industry is trying to further hijack the Quality Assurance Scheme which is dependent on the co-operation and good will of farmers.”
ICSA outlined that it will no longer accept that farmers can be thrown out of the scheme overnight, particularly as there is now a fundamental discrimination against cattle and sheep farmers compared to dairy farmers. “We believe that a farmer who fails an audit is entitled to a period of grace to rectify shortcomings before his livelihood is undermined. Dairy farmers already have that leeway; we cannot accept anything less for our members.”
Mr Kent said that progress on this issue was made at the meeting and that Bord Bia accepted the argument but he was concerned that no amendments would happen until the work of the Bord Bia Technical Committee was complete.
He expressed shock that Bord Bia had taken a decision to exclude ICSA from participation on the Technical Committee. “ICSA will continue to fight for a fair scheme for farmers but our exclusion from the actual negotiations means that we cannot be held responsible for unacceptable elements of any scheme,” he said.
On a positive note, ICSA got reassurances from Bord Bia that farmers would not be required to engage the services of a professional to draft a farm safety risk assessment or a farm safety statement (on farms with more than 3 employees). “We had a lot of members expressing alarm that professional involvement in drawing up safety plans would lead to unacceptable cost for farmers and we are glad that this has now been clarified.”
“There is still a lot of confusion between what is required under the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme and what is a factory imposed specification.
Extra efforts must be made to communicate this in marts and to farmers in general. There is also a need to make more effort in helping farmers to reach the standards rather than relying on creating a sense of fear among farmers. The role of the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) also needs to be under scrutiny. Their approach is to try to impose laboratory conditions on a farmyard which makes no sense. We also want to see the code of conduct for auditors. QAS auditors are not subject to the Farmers’ Charter but that does not mean that farmers are not entitled to fair procedures.”