FSA Letter, 9 July 2002
The FSA are seeking views on the a draft FSA Position Document available at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/FSA_position_statement.pdf
The Document is based on an independent review of assurance schemes, which has been carried out on behalf of the FSA. [For further details, see 9 July 2002]
The review was triggered by consumer research findings. This research showed that, while many consumers have little idea about agricultural practice, there is a significant demand for more information. In particular, some consumers want access to clear information about different production systems and what they mean in terms of the issues that matter to them such as animal welfare, environmental protection, chemical inputs and the use of veterinary medicines. However, there was little recognition of the logos used by farm assurance schemes and a minimal awareness of what underlying standards they represented. The objectives of the review were to examine the impact of assurance schemes on consumers, and to recommend improvements that would have consumer benefits.
The draft Position Document outlines the FSA's concerns and its preliminary views on the overall benefits of schemes. It proposes a number of changes to the way in which schemes operate and present themselves to consumers.
The FSA's aim in publishing the draft is to initiate debate between interested parties.
The FSA plan to hold a stakeholder meeting in September 2002 to discuss their findings in detail and in the meantime are inviting written comments on the review report and this paper.
The consultant was unable to cover all assurance schemes in the UK. The FSA recognise that there are other commodity and regional schemes and would be particularly interested to receive their views on the general points and recommendations covered by the report and the draft Position Document.
The sphere of influence of assurance schemes is wider than the FSA's remit. We hope the review we have published will make a contribution to the wider debate about the role of assurance schemes. This role was highlighted in the report of the English Commission on Farming and Food and the role of assurance schemes is also mentioned in 'A Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture.'
The Agency is also funding a project with the National Consumer Council covering the full range of voluntary labelling practice, including for example 'vegetarian' and 'healthy eating' claims. This project was described in more detail in a letter sent out on 10 December 2001. This project will recommend a number of key principles to underpin the design and use of all voluntary labelling schemes. The FSA will publish these recommendations as soon as possible.