FQAS inspections to resume from June, says LMC
The Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) Industry Board has agreed to resume inspections from 8th June 2020, conditional on strict adherence to an inspections Covid-19 protocol.
Speaking following the announcement, LMC chief executive and FQAS Board chairman Ian Stevenson said, “The production of safe wholesome food is an essential service and FQAS is a critical part of this. Our beef and lamb supply chains in Northern Ireland have worked tirelessly over the last few months to keep our produce readily available to consumers during this period of lockdown. Safeguarding the people who are central to food production is a critically important issue for everyone involved in the supply chain.
“A comprehensive protocol has therefore been produced to allow FQAS farm inspections to be conducted safely outdoors in line with Government guidelines and industry best practice, minimising risk to both farmers and inspectors. It is essential that both farmers and inspectors follow this protocol.”
“Following this protocol allows us to resume inspections safely and therefore maintain the extremely robust quality standards that Northern Ireland beef and lamb producers must adhere to.”
The protocol has been agreed with LMC’s contracted certification body, Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification (NIFCC) and details requirements for both inspectors and farmers before, during and after a farm inspection.
The key differences in how inspections will be conducted now compared with before the pandemic are; strict adherence to social distancing guidelines by farmers and inspectors, no entry to a farmer’s home or farm dwelling house, inspectors must wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at all times when on farm and inspections must only involve the inspector and one representative from the farm business. Scheme documentation can also be forwarded to inspectors in advance of the inspection to avoid having to review this on farm.
Stevenson continued: “As we enter the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic human health remains the top priority. The decision to resume farm inspections was not taken lightly and is unanimously supported by stakeholders and supply chain partners. Following this protocol allows us to resume inspections safely and therefore maintain the extremely robust quality standards that Northern Ireland beef and lamb producers must adhere to.
“It is fully accepted that there may be some FQAS members who are vulnerable or shielding and therefore in these exceptional circumstances there is an opportunity to avail of an alternative remote assessment that can be completed off farm. Guidance on remote assessments has been produced and is available on the LMC website.
“LMC will work with the FQAS Industry Board and NIFCC to regularly review the situation. With these additional and critically important safeguards in place it is extremely positive that independent verification of our world leading quality standards can once again resume thereby assisting our farmers and processors in placing quality beef and lamb on the shelves as together, we continue to feed the nation.”