Apple and pear growers in the United Kingdom are saying enough is enough.
Frustrated by the proliferation of farm certifications and regulations, the British Independent Fruit Growers Association has launched a "Rolling Back Farm Assurance Schemes" campaign to reduce grower burdens.
John Breach, BIFGA president, said the aim of the campaign is to squeeze out or prevent unnecessary rules and regulations. It costs growers a great deal of money to comply with farm assurance schemes, he said, but more alarming is the amount of time and stress involved in what, to many, seem unnecessary, "over the top" requirements.
BIFGA members say farm assurance schemes need to be rolled back because they are too costly, too time consuming, and too stressful to growers. The schemes provide no benefit to consumers, as the statutory rules already in place are more than adequate, and product safety could be proved by analysis. Growers think it’s not a good idea to remind consumers of the perceived need for assurance and say farm assurance has become an "empire," an industry in itself.
A typical U.K. fruit grower whose fruit is destined to be sold through a major supermarket must comply with standards of the Assured Produce Scheme. Although the scheme is supposed to be voluntary, in reality, a grower must comply in order to sell the fruit, Breach said. Assured Produce has standards specific to each commodity, and its 81-page protocol for apples covers in detail everything from crop protection, to harvesting and storage, pollution control and waste management, energy efficiency, health and safety, and conservation. It has lists of approved pesticides and fungicides.
In addition, some supermarkets demand that their suppliers be members of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), and growers supplying Tesco must comply with Nature’s Choice. If the farm has its own packing house, it must also comply with the British Retail Consortium regulations. Breach said these regulations are extremely demanding and treat the packing house almost as a processing plant.
"I understand that there are also some other audits already in force, or coming into force, regarding employment/ethical trading. Where will it all end?" Breach wrote in an e-mailed message to the Good Fruit Grower. "One of our main complaints is that these schemes seem to treat apples and pears as if they are very high-risk produce, when, in reality, they are low risk.
"Our members are proud to produce safe, high-quality fruit, but they would like to see an end to all the unnecessary red tape," he added.
The BIFGA formed a 15-member focus group to identify the many pointless and time-wasting questions in the farm audits or inspections they are subjected to, according to a report in Britain’s Fruit Grower magazine.
Growers can be suspended from the scheme for transgressing critical failure points, which could be something as trivial as failure to have a schedule for cleaning picking buckets, the article stated. Suspended growers must cease trading until the fault is rectified.
Breach said growers are particularly concerned about the introduction of new rules without warning or discussion with growers, the lack of redress that growers have if they transgress critical failure points, and the excessive and sometimes unreasonable powers of those running the schemes. In the past, growers were reluctant to criticize the schemes for fear of upsetting their marketing desks and supermarket customers.