The Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) Industry Board has said it will soon resume inspections.

However, the board added that its decision to recommence inspections from June 8, 2020, is conditional on strict adherence to an inspections Covid-19 protocol.

Speaking following the announcement, LMC chief executive and FQAS board chairman Ian Stevenson said: “The production of safe wholesome food is an essential service and FQAS is a critical part of this.

“Our beef and lamb supply chains in Northern Ireland have worked tirelessly over the last few months to keep our produce readily available to consumers during this period of lockdown.

Safeguarding the people who are central to food production is a critically-important issue for everyone involved in the supply chain.

“A comprehensive protocol has therefore been produced to allow FQAS farm inspections to be conducted safely outdoors in line with government guidelines and industry best practice, minimising risk to both farmers and inspectors. It is essential  that both farmers and inspectors follow this protocol.”

The protocol has been agreed with LMC’s contracted certification body, Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification (NIFCC) and details requirements for both inspectors and farmers before, during and after a farm inspection.

The key differences in how inspections will be conducted now compared with before the pandemic are:
  • Strict adherence to social distancing guidelines by farmers and inspectors;
  • No entry to a farmer’s home or farm dwelling house;
  • Inspectors must wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at all times when on-farm; and
  • Inspections must only involve the inspector and one representative from the farm business.

Scheme documentation can also be forwarded to inspectors in advance of the inspection to avoid having to review this on-farm.

Stevenson continued: “As we enter the recovery phase of the Covid-19 pandemic human health remains the top priority.

“The decision to resume farm inspections was not taken lightly and is unanimously supported by stakeholders and supply chain partners.

Following this protocol allows us to resume inspections safely and therefore maintain the extremely robust quality standards that Northern Ireland beef and lamb producers must adhere to.

Stevenson explained that alternative arrangements – such as remote assessments – could be used for farms where someone is vulnerable or shielding.

LMC said it would liaise with the FQAS Industry Board and NIFCC to regularly review the situation.

“With these additional and critically important safeguards in place, it is extremely positive that independent verification of our world-leading quality standards can once again resume, thereby assisting our farmers and processors in placing quality beef and lamb on the shelves as together, we continue to feed the nation,” Stevenson added.