One year ago, the AIC was asked by Red Tractor, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and other stakeholders to look at the potential for introducing an alternative assurance scheme for domestic crops targeted at the food and feed agri-supply chain, similar to the model employed for imported raw materials.
Those bodies had argued that the requirements for UK growers to access feed mills certified under the AIC Universal Feed Assurance Scheme (UFAS) are more stringent than those for grain suppliers outside the UK.
The ‘gatekeeper protocol’ part of the AIC model allows grain produced in a country where there is no farm-level assurance to enter the UK feed market. That protocol is part of the Feed Materials Assurance scheme (FEMAS), and essentially provides an assurance system to certify that feed ingredients destined for UK livestock feed meet strict legal and industry safety requirements.
Under that protocol, the buyer or supplier of the materials undertakes a range of sampling and analysis of pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, etc., which are specified for the commodity, to ensure it is compliant.
In November last year, Red Tractor said it was its view that “UK growers should be granted like-for-like access to this scheme, allowing them the freedom to choose to only supply the livestock feed market in this way."
Red Tractor’s standards already allow for this, it added, meaning "non-assured UK grain producers wouldn’t face any additional requirements in choosing to take this route to market should the AIC make the necessary changes to allow it.”
Costs and complexities
But John Kelley, AIC chief operating officer and MD of AIC Services, said the findings of the trade group's 12-month long evaluation was that there is no market demand for the gatekeeper protocol in the UK, and that it would be more onerous and more expensive to implement that current farm assurance schemes.
That stance has the backing of arable marketing and feed companies, as well as farmers, he said.
Current systems provide the level of assurance and traceability that the UK agri-supply industry wants, continued Kelley.
“With the gatekeeper protocol, there is a whole lot of checks and balances, so we worked out that it would be a lot more expensive for UK farmers to do this.
"And, of course, this study was carried out prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since then there has been a lot more volatility in terms of volume availability and huge inflation of crop prices.
"We see that the current systems in place work well. And, not only do they work well for the food and feed industry, they also work for the renewable energy directive. Farm assurance crop assurance audits covers a multitude of markets whereas a gatekeeper protocol audit would only cover food and feed sector supply so a grower would need to have an additional audit for their renewable energy directive requirements, which again would increase costs," he told FeedNavigator.
Adapting to market needs
However, he acknowledged that it was important that scheme providers continue to listen and adapt to market needs.
The AIC, added Kelley, will consider any alternative assurance scheme at farm gate and further up the supply chain should these be developed in the future.
Some key issues have been raised by certain farming groups around the schemes, notably methods of auditing, and areas causing dissatisfaction need to be clearly identified with an action plan to remedy, said the UK agri-supply industry representatives.
"The need for safe, traceable feed, food and fuel supply chains has never been greater," stressed the AIC in a Q&A on the consultation.