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Scottish pig farms share in the success of Quality Assurance Standards

In 1990, Slains Park Farm wasted no time in signing up to Quality Meat Scotland’s (QMS) Pig Assurance Scheme, currently celebrating 30 years, which ensures that pigs produced for the food chain are reared to a stringent set of standards.

Located south of Aberdeenshire, Slains Park Farm is a mixed enterprise of pigs, beef, dairy and arable across 5,000-acres.

“We have 3000 sows, all outdoors, with the progeny finished across 18 Quality Assured ‘bed and breakfast’ farms, which are located from Fife all the way to Banff,” said Derek Ambrose, Pig Manager at Slains Park.

He added: “We sell between 55-60,000 pigs per year, with 90% processed locally at Pilgrim’s Pride Ltd, in Brechin and 10% at Woodhead Brothers in Lancashire.

“We joined the scheme in 1990 as soon as it was set up. Not only does it allow you to sell at a premium but, more than that, it’s good to have an independent body come and check our farms. It helps you do the job right knowing what standards you have to meet and that there will be people who come assess what you’re doing.”

Almost 100% of significant pig farming businesses in Scotland are members of the QMS Pig Assurance Scheme and are signed up to the Scottish Pig Health Charter which enables producers to work collaboratively together with other producers to protect the health status regionally and nationally.

Derek believes the real benefits lie in the knowledge sharing and whole chain assurance for the consumer.

“The standards, which ensure ‘whole of life’ assurance, helps with public image of the industry as a whole. We operate in a country where our welfare standards are high, and legislation is strict. We prioritise putting in place measures to protect, monitor and improve pig health and it’s great to be part of the Quality Assurance scheme which provides peace of mind to the consumer.”

QMS contract Lloyd’s Register, an independent inspection and certification company, to carry out the required farm assessments in order to certify and approve farms under the scheme.
James Foad has been an assessor since 2012 and for the past four years he has been assessing pig farms across Scotland.

“How we assess pig farms is slightly different than cattle and sheep. We will physically get into the pens with them to ensure that the high welfare standards set out are being met.

“When I first moved into assessing pigs, some changes to the standards were coming into effect which changed the way we could assess those measures. It was a difficult shift for both assessors and farmers, but now that we’ve come through it, farmers feel better prepared for what’s happening in the industry and are well equipped to deal with different issues.”

James said that pig farmers are more conscious of their image when it comes to animal welfare and that joint visits with ScottishSPCA help reinforce that they’re upholding some of the highest welfare standards in the world.

“I’m joined by a member of ScottishSPCA on nearly all of the assessments that are conducted on pig farms. In the last four years we’ve pushed really hard for joint visits and the farmers are appreciative of it. I think it gives them peace of mind that they’re doing the right thing when working in an industry that seems to attract a lot of media interest.”

Pig farms certified under QMS’ Quality Assurance Scheme are also part of an abattoir health monitoring scheme which assess thirteen different conditions to control and eradicate diseases to improve animal health which positively impacts welfare and production efficiency.

Commenting on the hard work and dedication from the Scottish pig sector, QMS Board Member and Managing Director of Scottish Pig Producers, Andy McGowan said: “One of the real strengths of the scheme is the fact that every pig farm gets visited regularly. There is a one in 50 chance of being inspected by the government, but under the Quality Assurance Scheme, pig farms are guaranteed to be assessed yearly as well as a quarterly veterinarian inspection – it’s a very high level of scrutiny.

“Pig farming has modernised over the years and there has been an incredible rise in standards, but it’s been done at a gradual pace which means it’s manageable for all farmers to achieve.”

Over the coming months, QMS will be releasing a series of features and case studies covering the whole chain assurance schemes and highlighting the important role they play within the industry. For further information on any of our schemes please email info@qmscotland.co.uk.