On-going measures to underpin the integrity of the quality assurance schemes behind the “Scotch” brands and ensure a level playing field for all members, are being implemented by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
Uel Morton, Chief Executive of QMS, said the organisation has a duty of care to the members of its assurance schemes, as well as to consumers, to operate the schemes in a fair, cost-effective and diligent manner.
QMS has six quality assurance schemes: two livestock (cattle and sheep, and pigs) and four non-livestock (feeds, haulage, auction market and processor). Membership of these self-funding schemes is voluntary and they are managed independently by the assessment and certification body, Acoura (formerly known as SFQC).
“To protect the transparency and credibility of our assurance schemes it is vitally important that we do not have any ambiguity surrounding membership status,” said Mr Morton.
“It is essential that our membership process is simple, transparent and clear and that we are not incurring unnecessary costs in the process of collecting renewal payments. Those who pay their assurance fees on time should not have to ‘carry’ those who fail to pay their fee after repeated reminders.”
Renewal letters were sent to cattle and sheep quality assurance scheme members in April with a request for payment by May 26th. Those who did not make payment in response to the initial deadline, received a reminder letter which was issued in late May. This was followed by a second reminder letter in mid-June.
Both the second and third payment reminder letters clearly indicated the final payment due date was 30th June and explained the consequences of non-payment would be withdrawal of membership number, loss of approved assured status of holding/s and animals traded after that date would lose their Scotch eligibility status.
Withdrawal notices were then issued on July 6th – over two months after the initial renewal letter was issued.
Mr Morton said it was very encouraging that over 98% of the total membership had promptly paid their renewal fees.
However, it was unfortunate that a small number of members had failed to pay despite three letters being issued to them. This, he said, was disappointing at a time when the industry has asked QMS to do more to recruit new members. A recruitment campaign launched by QMS at the start of 2015 saw more than 160 applications from new members received in the first four months of this year.
“A compassionate and understanding view has been adopted in the case of members who have contacted us after the final extended payment deadline to indicate their failure to pay was due to genuine exceptional circumstances outwith their control.
“To ensure fairness to all those members who paid on time and to protect the integrity of our schemes it is important to adhere to a clear payment cut-off date.”
Any farmer who has had their membership withdrawn as a result of non-payment can re-apply to Acoura and, providing their assessment visit is up-to-date, their farm could be back in the scheme very quickly.
Ahead of this recent renewal, QMS has also reviewed the fee structure of assurance scheme membership with the aim of making it as fair as possible for farmers and crofters with different business sizes.
As a result of this review, the membership fees for farms with smaller numbers of animals have been reduced and the fees for farms with large numbers of cattle and sheep have been increased slightly to offset this, maintaining the scheme’s non-profit making status.
The result of these changes, introduced following industry feedback and notified to members in April this year, will be a more even playing field in terms of cost of membership per livestock unit.
Farmers who would like more information on joining the QMS Quality Assurance schemes should contact Acoura (the new name for SFQC) on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0131 335 6602. Information is also available here