4.9.6S
THE UK's 'ASSURED PRODUCE' SCHEME

JC WISE

National Farmers' Union, 164 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8HL, UK

In today's world both fresh-produce growers and retailers currently share a common concern - to reassure consumers that current food production methods lead to good quality, safe food at affordable prices. Primary producers are increasingly subject to the same influences as food businesses, i.e. satisfying customers' demands that their crops are produced in a controlled manner grown to relevant standards and legal requirements.

The NFU, representing farmers and growers of primary fresh produce, joined with the UK's principle multiple retailers in an initiative to reassure consumers that fresh produce is grown in an environmentally sensitive manner, in particular, reducing the amount of pesticides used. This is to be achieved by the application of scientifically based, good horticultural practices, with emphasis on reducing whenever possible the use of chemical pesticides by promoting viable integrated crop management (ICM) systems and improved protection of the environment.

The 'NFU-Retailer ICM Partnership', as the initiative was known, sought to achieve this objective in three phases; firstly, to establish for each crop a base line of current best horticultural practice; secondly, to independently verify that growers are reaching their standards, and finally, to measurably lift these standards.

The first phase was achieved by the development of ICM protocols for 47 crops. This resulted in a sharing of input from all sectors of the food chain that led to a greater understanding of each others' problems. The end result is a single protocol per crop rather than a plethora of different protocols. These protocols describe best existing practice, highlight integrated pest, disease and crop management techniques, and are updated as reliable improvements are developed from new technologies or specific research and development programmes.

In October 1997, the Partnership embarked on the second phase by launching the Assured Produce Scheme, which confirms growers' compliance with the protocols. The scheme combines a blend of self- and independent assessment, both of which are scored. By so doing the scheme hopes to fulfil the Partnership's third objective of measurably improving standards.

It is anticipated that everyone concerned in primary food production, pre-packing, marketing and retailing will read these protocols and by taking this basic approach it is hoped that all involved in producing, marketing and consumption will come to understand the problems of safe and economic production.