A significant increase in the number of farmers applying to become members of Quality Meat Scotland’s Cattle and Sheep Quality Assurance scheme is being welcomed by the Scottish red meat industry.
QMS launched a major recruitment drive at the start of this year to increase the membership of this quality assurance scheme and during the first four months of 2015 more than 160 applications from new members have been received.
The recruitment campaign was launched along with a range of activities to tie in with the 25th anniversary of the quality assurance schemes which underpin the Scotch Beef PGI, Scotch Lamb PGI and Specially Selected Pork brands.
Scotland’s quality assurance schemes are among the longest-running in the world, with the Scots global pioneers of the quality assurance concept first introduced here in 1990.
Currently, over 90% of Scotland’s breeding cattle population and 80% of the breeding sheep flock are born on farms covered by quality assurance, along with almost 100% of significant pig farming businesses.
Jim McLaren, Chairman of QMS, said the response to the campaign had been very encouraging and he emphasised the importance of everyone in the industry continuing to work together to reduce the number of businesses which don’t yet benefit from quality assurance.
“Whether you are a farmer, haulier, feed company, auction market operator or a processor, it is vital to the future of these businesses and our industry that everyone is united in support of our whole chain quality assurance,” said Mr McLaren.
He also highlighted the importance of the quality assurance standards in maintaining the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status of Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb which is hugely significant when accessing support from the European Commission, such as the €1.2 million (£861,000) QMS confirmed it had secured last week.
The recruitment drive has also seen many processors and auctioneers contacting any non-assured customers to encourage them to become members.
A key focus of the campaign has been on Scottish beef cattle breeding farms that remain outside farm assurance. Among the cattle farmers who are supporting QMS as “faces” of the campaign is Neil McCorkindale of Scammadale Farm, near Oban.
Mr McCorkindale, who is also vice-chairman of the Scottish Beef Association and runs 100 cows to produce suckled calves, said he was proud that his farm is a long-standing member of the QMS quality assurance scheme.
“There is no doubt in my mind that quality assurance is vital to the future of my business and the beef industry in Scotland.
“Consumers expect to be able to buy beef with total confidence it has been produced to a high standard and quality assurance is the only way we can offer them that guarantee of production and welfare standards. The horsemeat fraud highlighted the importance of having a Scotch Beef brand underpinned by a robust set of standards.”
Quality assurance scheme membership is open to farms of all sizes – from large finishing units to much smaller businesses with a few animals. The membership fee varies with the size of the unit and discounts are available for crofting groups and those who combine assessments with those for other schemes.
In recent months QMS has been reviewing the fee structure of assurance scheme membership with the aim to make 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, will be a more even playing field in terms of cost of membership per livestock unit. Members will receive an update from QMS this week with information about changes which are being introduced to ensure the timely payment of membership fees along with any steps identified as necessary during annual farm assessments.
A significant project, initiated last October, to upgrade the software used to check the quality assurance status of animals, is now approaching completion. A successful test phase of the new system is underway with very positive feedback from the farmers, auctioneers and processors involved.
The new on-line checker will shortly be ready for full launch – providing buyers and sellers of cattle with improved effectiveness in the process of checking animals’ quality assurance status. A smart phone enabled checker will be available later in the year.
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 on the QMS website here