Bord Bia defends inspection criteria in the face of farmer criticism

The CEO of Bord Bia, Tara McCarthy, was recently called upon to defend the Irish Food Board’s criteria for inspecting dairy, beef and sheep farms under the relevant quality assurance schemes in Origin Green.

The methodology of the inspections; as well as the frequency with which they occur; was repeatedly criticised and questioned by farmers at the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association’s (ICMSA’s) annual general meeting (AGM) in Limerick, earlier this week.

During her presentation at the event, McCarthy outlined that Bord Bia has approximately 100 auditors carrying out over 800 audits a week.

However, farmers have taken issue with the same “silly questions” being asked during every audit.

Responding to criticism, McCarthy said: “It is challenging to be asked the same questions each year, but that’s the accredited nature of this scheme. That’s what we are inspected on. Because the year we don’t ask those questions, is the year something could have changed.

“Everything we do is independently audited and accredited. So just as you are being audited, so are we.

“Obviously we don’t want to waste anybody’s time; but, we have to have a constant response to the key questions that are important to our customers.

“We also audit meat factories; I think that is something that might not be seen as rigorously as what we do on the farm.

We don’t ask anybody any ‘stupid questions’ just for the sake of annoying them.

The aim for Bord Bia is to create a robust system that can be stood over, McCarthy added.

The CEO of the Irish Food Board outlined that in order to get the organisation’s audits accredited internationally, certain systems have to be put in place.

On the frequency with which the audits take place, she explained: “We have had discussions with the accrediting agencies to ensure that we do not over burden farmers. But 18 months is the absolute limit that they would accredit our system for.”

Schemes

Meanwhile, McCarthy added that despite the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) only being launched in 2014; a total of 95% of the 18,000 dairy farmers in Ireland have registered for the scheme.

Of this, some 91% have been audited and 88% of these farmers are certified members. She hopes that 100% of dairy farmers will be certified members by early 2018.

With regards to the Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme (BLQAS); just over 51,500 farmers are certified. Earlier this year, Bord Bia launched the Sustainable Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme (SBLAS).

The SBLAS will replace the previous beef and lamb quality assurance audits on a phased basis over the next few months. But since April, approximately 19,350 farmers have already been accredited, McCarthy said.

Concluding, she said: “We have to measure what matters. Our reports are now showing that there is improvement; but there is still a lot of progress to be made.”