THIRTY years ago, the Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (NIBL FQAS) was founded. At its core are the three key pillars of food safety, animal welfare and care for the environment. We know that current consumer behaviour in purchasing is driven not just by price but by health, ethics in production, sustainability and enjoyment of the product and NIBL FQAS continues to be ideally placed to deliver against evolving consumer expectations.
Today the scheme boasts almost 11,600 participants. LMC owns the NIBL FQAS on behalf of the cattle and sheep industry in Northern Ireland. The scheme is represented by all areas of the industry, with its board and standard setting committee comprising of members of the UFU, NIMEA, NBA, NSA, DAERA, NIAPA and LMC.
Over the past three decades the NIBL FQAS has delivered positive and quantifiable benefits for the agri-food industry. LMC farm quality assurance manager, Gillian Davis explained, “The NIBL FQAS has widened the marketplace for approved producers both in domestic and international markets.
“With recognised equivalence to Red Tractor, beef and lamb produced from animals born, reared and processed in Northern Ireland can gain unimpeded access to a market of over 70m people in Great Britain. This trade is worth in excess of £1 billion per annum to Northern Ireland’s economy. In addition, annually local red meat processors generate approximately £224m from sales of NIFQA beef and lamb in the NI market.”
High levels of consumer confidence in the FQAS have been confirmed through recent independent data which outlines that almost two thirds of NI consumers make a conscious effort to always buy beef labelled with the FQAS logo.
Gillian continued, “It is encouraging that consumers see FQAS as high quality, responsibly produced beef and lamb. When consumers pick up beef or lamb labelled with the FQAS logo they support local farmers who have met world leading standards for husbandry, animal health and welfare, nutrition and the environment.”
Participants compliance with the NIBL FQAS standards are independently verified by a UKAS accredited third party certification body. Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification (NIFCC) is the current contracted body with responsibility for provision of NIBL FQAS certification services.
Gillian added, “Farm inspections take place every 18 months and comprise of visual farm checks and review of paperwork. Compiling records for FQAS helps to assist farmers with better record keeping and traceability of inputs. This in turn helps to prepare for cross-compliance inspections.
“NIBL FQAS has earned recognition with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) meaning that being a participant reduces likelihood of selection for statutory inspections for feed, and food hygiene in the context of primary production.
“From a farmers perspective, NIBL FQAS goes further than assisting with best practice for bookkeeping.
“There are cost benefits associated with presenting FQA cattle and sheep for slaughter. For cattle and sheep, deductions for non-quality assured stock are in place and some factories will not take non-quality assured stock.
“LMC also operate a dedicated farm liaison service, which is in place to assist NIBL FQAS participants with any queries relating to the scheme, non-conformances and any issues prior to or following an inspection.”
Non-members interested in joining the scheme can request an application pack by calling the FQAS Helpline on (028) 9263 3024 or NIFCC (028) 9263 3017.
Concluding Gillian said, “Applying to become NIBL FQAS participant is a straightforward process. Interested producers should submit an application form and pay the relevant membership fee £75 + VAT (£90). NIFCC will then complete some initial checks on farm. Once these checks are complete, an NIFCC inspector will be in contact to organise a date and time for a farm inspection.”