FQAS inspections deferred by LMC

Following an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) Industry Board, all face-to-face farm inspections have been deferred due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 21st March 2020, 7:19 am
Ian Stevenson
Ian Stevenson

This policy came into effect from Wednesday 18th March at 5pm. 

Speaking following the announcement, LMC Chief Executive and FQAS Board Chairman Ian Stevenson said:“Given the exceptional circumstances and acting on the advice of government on social distancing measures the FQAS Board unanimously agreed that every effort should be made to safeguard the health, well-being and safety of our FQAS members and inspectors and therefore face to face inspections have been deferred.

“We are now working closely with our accredited certification body Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification to determine how we can collectively maintain the robust nature of beef and lamb assurance in Northern Ireland within the limitations imposed by the current challenging conditions.

“FQAS continues to operate and participants’ assured status will continue to be certified during the period of inspection deferral.”

“Members whose renewals fall due will be invited to pay the annual renewal fee in order to continue participation in the scheme.  Members will be advised to pay online during this period.” 

He added:“In these uncertain times human health must be the top priority.   This action had to be taken, is in line with guidelines published by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service for management of extraordinary events or circumstances and is supported by our supply chain partners. 

“There are various forms of remote assessments that are currently being considered and more detail on this will be communicated to FQAS members in due course.   Inspectors will only return to farms when it is safe to do so and this decision will be informed by government advice.”

Ian Stevenson concluded: “Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep industry is critical to the Northern Ireland economy and the COVID-19 outbreak brings focus on the importance of domestic food supply and the value of farmers and food producers to the nation. 

“We have over 12,000 active scheme members and many of them are at increased risk of severe illness from this disease outbreak.  The FQAS Board will be working to chart a path through this challenge but for now the key is to protect public health and minimise the spread of this disease.”

Meanwhile Farmers for Action (FFA) have sent a letter to Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, requesting the immediate suspension of all farm inspections with the exception of those required for Bovine TB testing purposes.

According to an FFA’s William Taylor, subsidy inspections can be carried out remotely.

He added: “FQAS, Red Tractor and HSE inspections must be suspended immediately. The logic for this is clear.

“The majority of our farmers are over 59 years of age and as the days pass by the importance of our farmers to feed the nation ratchets up.

“Many inspections involve inspectors and the farmer sitting around the kitchen table. It is obvious that this cannot continue.”