MIA Focus: Tracing back for the future

Using eASD on farm.

New Zealand red meat is being traced back for the future as meat processing plants and farmers start to sign up to the sector’s latest initiatives, bringing strengthened assurance for customers on the sector’s food origin and traceability from 2018.

The two new initiatives, an electronic identification system and a new farm assurance programme, have been developed by the $64 million Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP). This is one of the red meat sector’s Primary Growth Partnerships involving a collaboration between 10 partners: including six meat processors (all Meat Industry Association members), Beef + Lamb NZ, two banks, along with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The new electronic system is based on OSPRI’s National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) programme that requires all beef cattle and deer to be tagged for identification and movement purposes. The new electronic Animal Status Declaration forms (eASDs) being introduced to the supply chain also include sheep and mean that animals can be easily traced back to farm of origin in one online system.

Successful proof-of-concept trials last year by four meat companies – Silver Fern Farms, ANZCO Foods, Greenlea Premier Meats and Progressive Meats – led to the development of a pilot trial at Silver Fern Farms, starting in mid-February with 70 suppliers to the company’s Finegand plant. In July, Silver Fern Farms’ Pareora plant was added, testing how it works at a multi-species deer, beef and sheepmeat plant.

Dean Hamilton, Silver Fern Farms: the meat processor will be the first to use eASD across all of its plants from next year.

The success of the Finegand/Pareora pilot trials, eventually involving 100 of Silver Fern Farms’ suppliers using eASDs to book 120,000 sheep, deer and cattle into the two plants, has led the processor to roll out eASD to all of its South Island plants. The company has added Hokitika, Waitane and Belfast and most recently its venison processing plant at Kennington at the end of October, explains the company’s chief executive Dean Hamilton.

“We then move into the North Island and will have all plants on board by March next year. We will be the first major processor to have all of our plants using this new modern system,” he says.

By mid-November, a total of 182 farmers were registered for eASD across several of the companies. They had already completed 588 eASDs for 148,252 sheep, cattle and deer.

The trials have shown that farmers save time managing the eASD system from a mobile device with NAIT numbers, supplier numbers and farm address details all pre-populated meaning less time and more accuracy is involved in form-filling. The system also has cross-checks, meaning there are fewer mistakes made when the data is first input. Data can also be collected offline while the farmer is out and about on the farm, ready for upload as soon as the device is back in internet range. Any final additions/amendments can be made in the yards when the livestock is ready for transport and sent through to the processor, giving a complete data trail for the animals.

From the meat processors’ perspective, their staff spend less time chasing up admin mistakes and more time getting on with their job.

“We’ve been getting feedback as we go, with people finding it’s easy to use and it has stopped lots of phone calls from plants chasing up information before stock were legally able to be processed,” remarks Hamilton.

Farmers signing up for new national red meat farm assurance standard

The new system locks into place with the second RMPP-developed initiative, the NZ Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP), New Zealand’s first single national baseline standard to fit all farm assurance standards announcement last October (FoodNZ, December/January 2017). At that point, 34 farms were selected around New Zealand for a 12-month trial to iron out any bugs.

Six red meat processors – ANZCO Foods, Silver Fern Farms, Greenlea Premier Meats, Progressive Meats and its two associated companies Te Kuiti Meats and Ovation – have collaborated with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Beef + Lamb NZ and Deer Industry NZ on the programme. They have all worked in conjunction with the programme’s auditor AsureQuality, which also provides services to overseas retailers, such as the UK’s Sainsbury’s Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

The standard is designed to meet the most stringent of requirements from New Zealand red meat’s 120 markets around the world. Farmers sign up for audits confirming they have met the sector-agreed standards for product integrity, origin, traceability, biosecurity, environmental sustainability and animal health and welfare. Another bonus for NZFAP-accredited farmers is they are now subject to one audit, rather than several for different processors as previously, to be repeated at regular intervals.

Since its commencement on 1 July through to 31 October, 268 audits have been completed. The first 16 took place in September which NZFAP project manager Pat Turton reports went well and had positive feedback. Altogether, there are now 14 companies looking to implement NZFAP over the next 12 months – around half have already implemented the programme into their systems and the other half are yet to come on-board.

One of the companies to go live is ANZCO Foods, which is the second company to do so. Over 100 audits were carried out for them by AsureQuality in October.

Alan McDermott reports positive progress from ANZCO’s NZFAP audited farmers.

It has gone extremely well, reports ANZCO agribusiness manager Alan McDermott, with very positive feedback from the farmers who have been audited, he says.

“They say there’s a clear process in the preparation for the audit, sensible standards, a good and clear auditing process and it is great to see the removal of duplication.”

Like other meat companies involved in NZFAP, ANZCO is phasing the audits in over the next 18 months as old ones expire and come up for renewal.

“The number audited in October was about the same as would previously have been done under the old system.

“For those farms that are already farm assured it means very little change in terms of what happens when they are audited through ANZCO,” says McDermott, adding the company’s farmer suppliers will be provided with the new programme documents over the next few months.

“The new programme will enhance the already high customer confidence in the New Zealand supply chain and will eliminate duplication between processors because most processors are joining the programme.

“The ultimate goal is to have all sheep, beef and deer farmers involved in the NZFAP. After all, we’re only as good as the one worst of us,” he says.

McDermott says NZFAP is going to benefit the red meat sector generally, because of the removal of duplication and the introduction of a clear published standard of how New Zealand does things.

“It gives us a united position on quality assurance, which will underpin the sector and the Red Meat Story – and, in time, underpin all of New Zealand’s supply.

“We know that customers, consumers and the public’s expectations are all getting greater and we need to be united and prepared to maintain customer access and public licence to operate.”

The company, like others, will also implement eASD next year.

Together, eASD and NZFAP provide proof of the integrity of the supply chain from pasture to plate, further strengthening origin and traceability assurances that are important to support the red meat sector’s new marketing programme, the Red Meat Story, currently being developed.

The two programmes are expected to ramp up considerably over the next 12 months.

This article appeared in Food NZ magazine (December 2017/January 2018) and is reproduced here with permission.

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