Has all those assurance schemes got you confused?

Assured British Meat (ABM) has created an online checker aimed at ending confusion over the proliferation of certification bodies behind the Red Tractor scheme.

Online visitors can use the site - www.abm.org.uk - to verify the assurance status of Red Tractor-approved beef and lamb producers in England. The system searches the membership lists of all recognised Red Tractor farm assurance schemes serving the English beef and lamb sectors including ABM (certified by CMi Certification and EFSIS-FABBL), Genesis Quality Assurance and Soil Association Farm Assurance (SAFA).

"We have set this up to help buyers reduce the time it takes, and the number of databases to be checked, to verify the assured status of beef and lamb producers," says ABM strategy and technical manager Philippa Wiltshire. "We hope that this simplified system will encourage the industry to verify the status of all farmers who sell assured livestock."

ABM co-ordinates beef and lamb assurance on behalf of the Red Tractor, represents the beef and lamb sector in discussions with government and other external bodies, and is responsible for schemes and setting standards for farms, markets, commercial livestock hauliers and abattoirs. Further non-ABM beef and lamb schemes recognised by Assured Food Standards (AFS), which manages the Red Tractor, include Farm Assured Welsh Livestock, Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme and Quality Meat Scotland Assurance.

AFS is owned by NFU England and Wales, Ulster Farmers Union, MLC, Dairy UK and BRC, with Defra and the Food & Drink Federation as observers. About 78,000 farmers and 350-plus companies are signed up to the Red Tractor scheme, which covers 90% of UK pig production and 70% of cattle production in England and Wales.

Accreditation also extends to the catering sector, with the Slug & Lettuce bar chain among the first to sign up to its foodservice licensing and Red Tractor standards also underpinning new regional sourcing public procurement policies. Over 70,000 inspections are carried out every year by independent experts to ensure that Red Tractor standards are upheld, according to AFS, and the mark is now recognised by 49% of consumers. AFS stepped up its campaign to increase consumer awareness through the launch of the first Red Tractor Day back in April, with the backing of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"The Red Tractor delivers rigorous standards, traceability and independent inspections at every stage of production," says AFS chairman Colin Smith. "It brings together the nation's leading producers, processors and retailers behind one credible, transparent scheme." Last summer on the recommendation of the Food Standards Agency, AFS and LACORS, the co-ordinating body for local authority regulatory services, signed a memorandum of understanding to improve liaison and communication in a bid to prevent misuse of the Red Tractor.