ALL face-to-face farm inspections have been called off as a consequence of the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.
Following an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) Industry Board, a decision was taken to defer inspections, with effect from 5pm on Wednesday, March 18.
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 (NIFCC), 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.”
The LMC chairman continued: “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 (UKAS) 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.
“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.”