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Sustainable Food Guide
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 Assurance Schemes...

What are Assurance Schemes?
Assurance Schemes verify, through regular independent inspection, that farmers and growers are producing primary agricultural products according to documented foundation standards covering food safety and traceability, animal welfare and environmental protection. Usually these schemes are based on legislation, codes of good agricultural practice and recognised good industry practice. Several of these schemes provide qualities that can help promote sustainable farming. There is no Assurance scheme for specifically Sustainable Food other than that for fish - Sustainable Marine Council. The UK Woodland Assurance Scheme is recognised by the international Forest Stewardship Council.

Assurance schemes help establish consumer confidence in food. They can assure safety and other standards to which food has been produced and in many cases help provide traceability. Branding of assurance provides an opportunity to distinguish products in the market. Baseline or higher-level assurance schemes can help producers add value and access new markets by capturing a niche, building on a trend, or addressing customer concerns.

The Government welcomes these developments and encourages the industry to continue to build on their foundation. But Assurance scheme standards must be credible and realistic and transparent. Assurance is one of the priorities for grant aid under the Government's new Agricultural Development Scheme.

"Farm assurance schemes, when supported by accurate and informative labelling, are an important way of establishing stronger relationships between farmers, retailers and consumers" CPRE. The Food Standards Agency carried out a review in 2002 of how Assurance Schemes are being run. The report (FSA on FAS pdf) recommends that people should be able to recognise "baseline" schemes and "premium" ones and the difference between them. Can you?