INCREASED consumer confidence coupled with the strong traceability created by Northern Ireland’s Quality Assurance scheme (FQAS) has ensured premiums of between £100 and £300 per head of beef cattle for its producers.
“FQAS has fundamentally succeeded in giving consumers total confidence,” said Livestock Meat Commission (LMC) farm quality assurance manager, Daryl McLaughlin.
“It is a key driver in delivering market access throughout Europe with high value contacts and will continue to work with local processors in finding additional export markets post-Brexit.”
Celebrating it’s 25th year in succession, while LMC celebrates its 50th anniversary, figures to the end of April show the scheme boasts more than 12,000 producer members out of the 18,000 beef farmers in NI, with 99.31% of price reporting cattle farm quality assured at the point of slaughter.
“You have to rely on schemes such as FQAS when you face so much uncertainty and competition in the industry,” said Conall Donnelly, chief executive of Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association.
“The scheme should be used as a backdrop on trying to market meat with more of a positive impact and when it comes to exporting, we want to operate to a high standard.”
FQAS, which was launched to give the best practice in production methods and high quality and care for animals and the farm environment, runs alongside Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS) which is another system experts have given credit to.
This computer system can trace and monitor every animal which is on the farm. For example, farmers must have dairy calves tagged and registered within seven days, while beef calves follow at 24 days. Farm inspections are carried out every eight months, while random checks can be done at any given time.
But it’s not just the farm and the farmer that is under this sophisticated scheme, as every link in the chain has to be quality assured, from feed merchants to haulage companies.
Liam Caffrey, supply chain manager at ABP, spoke of how producers relied on farm quality assured stock and that animals benefit from the welfare standards.
“Retailers require stock that is farm quality assured and factories aren’t keen to take in any non-quality assured stock for processing. The cattle are much more content so it just shows how much we need schemes like this to defend and demonstrate the meat industry.”
Mr Caffrey also pointed out that the industry needs such schemes to boost consumer confidence when buying meat.
“You can’t underestimate how savvy the consumer is. There is a huge army of people working against the industry and the public can be fed information that isn’t even worth thinking about, whether it be on social media or through bad press,” he said.
“Consumers then want answers from retailers and retailers then want answers from us. It’s important that we are there to answer the questions to the public whether it be in supermarkets or at open farm events.”
Aside to this, further measures have been taken in factories. Since 2011, seven main meat plants in NI grade cattle using visual imaging analysis (VIA). This rules out any human element with all cattle being collaborated the same way.
And with a strong growth in the number of Aberdeen-Angus cattle in the country and an increased demand for lighter carcasses, this has meant that some factories have had to introduce DNA testing to protect the integrity of the breed’s international reputation.