Quality Meat Scotland will begin a gradual return to physical assessments for priority members in its six quality assurance schemes, starting next week, on June 28.

To cope with the COVID-19 restrictions, a remote assessment tool was introduced in April, and has since been 'extremely successful' at maintaining scheme certification. QMS said that, for now, physical assessments will only be reintroduced where a remote assessment is not possible and will be prioritised based on the following criteria – a high-risk member, an overdue assessment, new applicants or a response to complaint or concern.

Where possible, assurance scheme members will be requested to submit their documents to a portal or direct to the assessors for review prior to any physical visit, to help limit the time spent on farm and reduce the risk to both member and assessor.

A COVID-19 risk assessment will also be conducted prior to every assessment to determine if there are any vulnerabilities that would either prevent or increase risk to member or assessor if a physical assessment took place.

Where a member is categorised as vulnerable and identified as requiring a physical assessment, the member may choose to have a representative present during the assessment to act on their behalf. Where this is not possible, the assessors will refer the member to Lloyds Register for discussion with QMS. Strict protocol will be followed during any physical assessment by all assessors, including wearing of PPE and adherence to physical distancing rules.

QMS head of brands integrity said: “The remote assessments have proved extremely successful in ensuring the vast majority of members’ certification continued seamlessly during the pandemic, providing a workable solution which has continued to underpin our world-class standards.

“For those members who were not able to complete their assessment remotely, the resumption of physical assessments will ensure the integrity of the Scotch Beef PGI, Scotch Lamb PGI and Specially Selected Pork brands are protected robustly.”