Horizon blog: Shedding new light on grain assurance

Monday, 6 December 2021

Standards of imported grain versus that grown under domestic assurance schemes have been the subject of much debate within the cereals industry in recent months. Our Economics & Analysis Director David Eudall discusses a new piece of AHDB research designed to demystify how trade assurance schemes operate and the costs involved, to provide the cereals industry with the information it needs for a balanced debate. 

Over recent weeks and months, AHDB has been working with a number of industry stakeholders to discuss and find solutions to the current debate in cereals markets on assurance, equivalence to imports and testing standards.

As part of these discussions, it’s vitally important that all involved have a clear understanding of why assurance is needed, the difference between farm and trade assurance and how the process actually works.

As ever, nothing is simple and in assurance that is the case. There are a multitude of assurance schemes around the UK, Europe and globally that all have reciprocal acknowledgement of each other’s standards and practices.

For example, TASCC in the UK is seen as equivalent to the European EFISC-GTP scheme and this underpins the links between trading counterparties assurance.

The links between assurance schemes allow trade to be confident that grain is meeting the legal requirements of food and feed safety laws. One question we have been asked is to explain how grain that is not from an assured source enters a supply chain.

This is where ‘gatekeeping’ comes in. This, in practice, is the detail, contracts and testing required from a first-hand purchaser to ensure grain is of the safe standards required to enter a food and feed chain. This is more complex than first assumed and so the need to explain this in detail is important. Ultimately, we want to ensure that all have the same level of working knowledge of assurance practices and protocols.

There is also a clear information gap with regards to the cost of testing grain, both on the scale of imported vessels but also for individual samples. AHDB sees this as a key piece of information needed to inform future discussions, so we’ve looked into this area to give clarity.

From an individual vessel perspective, the costs of testing everything required to enter the UK food and feed chain starts at around £1,500 and increases depending on vessel size, commodity and company used. For single samples, the cost of testing depends on the hazard being tested for. Looking for residues of pesticides will cost up to £150 per sample, while Dioxin levels are more expensive to test at over £500 per sample.

The cost of sampling compared to current and potential future assurance scheme costs is important when assessing the viability of any future assurance options.

The purpose of our research is singularly to ensure that information is equal across those involved in the debate. A balance of informative knowledge is hugely important in ensuring that final decisions are being made with the full picture in place.

Without this knowledge and information, there would be a risk that decisions are being made which could then harm or disadvantage the UK food and feed supply chains. It is not our view to try to persuade one side of the argument or another but to inform and educate on how the assurance process of our supply chain works today.

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