Can you stand by what you sell? Tips on passing a farm audit

Tips on passing a farm audit

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The National Vendor Declarations for different species.

The National Vendor Declarations for different species.

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Around 3000 farm audits are conducted every year to ensure producers are abiding by quality assurance scheme requirements.

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Around 3000 farm audits are conducted every year to ensure producers are abiding by the requirements of the red meat industry's quality assurance schemes.

So how can you be sure that your farm ticks all of the relevant boxes?

Kathleen Allan is the communication and adoption manager of Integrity Systems, the company that manages Australia's three key on-farm assurance and traceability programs - Livestock Production Assurance (LPA), LPA National Vendor Declarations (LPA NVDs) and the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS).

Ms Allan said these programs were essential in ensuring the country's red meat industry was fully traceable and providing product that was safe to eat.

"The Australian red meat industry is a $28 billion industry that employs 40,000 people across 80,000 businesses and delivers product to 100 different global markets," she said.

"Transparent and rigorous record-keeping is essential in protecting our industry prosperity, market access and competitive advantage.

"Regardless of where you are in the supply chain, everybody has a role to play to ensure we stand by what we sell."

She said the LPA system provided on-farm assurance, covering farm management, food safety, animal welfare and biosecurity risks.

"It demonstrates the professionalism of our industry and is the tick of approval from producer to consumer," she said.

LPA NVDs are a crucial part of the records LPA-accredited producers must complete and keep to prove they have done their bit.

She said the NLIS system enhanced the ability to monitor livestock and was all about identification and traceability.

"It tracks the locations of every animal throughout its life," she said.

"It's mandatory for all producers but is underpinned by state and territory regulations."

She said these schemes were the only way traceability could be managed at a truly national level.

"For an industry that exports the majority of its product overseas, this is really important," she said.

"Our international consumers don't care what state the product comes from, they want to know that it came from team Australia and that we have a national program in place."

Ms Allan said her biggest tip to producers filling out an LPA NVD was to be clear, correct and complete.

"This means when answering questions on the NVD, you check your records when it comes to the treatments your animals may have received," she said.

"There's a range of questions asking whether animals have been treated with HGPs (hormone growth promotants) or scabby mouth for sheep, or whether they have consumed any restricted animal materials.

"For all of these questions, if in doubt, tick 'yes'.

"And make sure to always either tick 'yes' or 'no', not both of them."

She said the LPA program was voluntary and there were 190,000 participants in it currently.

"Being part of it, producers need to do several things like keep their details up to date online, maintain their accreditation by doing online learning and assessments, and renewing it every three years," she said.

While there was work involved, she said being accredited gave you more options to market your livestock.

READ MORE: Should sheep eID tags become compulsory nationally?

She said when you were signing the document, you were declaring you met the seven LPA requirements.

The first was that you had conducted a property risk assessment, which ensured you were minimising the risk of livestock being exposed to sites that were unacceptably contaminated with persistent chemicals or physical requirements.

"Make sure you complete a risk assessment and a map and update the risk assessment when changes occur on your farm, for example after the bushfires," she said.

The second was that you were using safe and responsible animal treatments.

"As a producer, it is your responsibility to ensure that animal treatments are administered in a safe and responsible manner and that it minimises the risk of chemical residues and physical hazards," she said.

"Document and file all animal treatment details, complete a chemical user course, note when the equipment used for livestock treatment is cleaned, and note animals exposed to physical contaminants, like broken needles."

You also had to minimise your exposure of livestock to foods containing unacceptable contamination and guarantee livestock were not fed animal products.

"Keep records of all agricultural chemical treatments and map or list treated or contaminated sites," she said.

"Have a management system that identifies livestock that may have become contaminated."

She said you needed to ensure your livestock were fit for transport, minimising the risk of stress and contamination.

"Record transport details and only select animals that are fit for travel," she said.

"Inspect vehicles prior to transport and observe pre-consignment curfews."

Producers also needed to ensure traceability requirements, with respect to treatments or exposure to food safety hazards being fulfilled for all livestock movements.

"Record all purchases and keep copies of LPA NVDs," she said.

Three years ago, a biosecurity element was added to the LPA NVD, which required producers to develop and maintain a documented farm biosecurity plan.

"There are many templates available but it's important to know that managing biosecurity risks is not a one-size-fits-all approach, it's very dependent on your risk appetite," she said.

The last requirement was animal welfare, and ensuring the handling of livestock was consistent with the requirements in the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines.

"Have a copy of the standards and guidelines accessible as a reference and ensure the staff involved in animal husbandry are familiar and trained with the contents," she said.

Ms Allan said if you were chosen to be audited, "don't panic".

"All LPA-accredited producers, irrespective of the number of livestock they run, may be audited," she said.

"If you're selected, you will receive an LPA audit advice pack (which includes a checklist) and will then be contacted by an auditor to agree on a mutually-suitable time."

On the day, she said the auditor would go through your records and take a tour of your facilities, looking at where you stored your chemicals, for example.

If an issue was identified, there were three categories it could fall into - minor, major and critical.

She said critical issues could be something like your sheep found licking an old battery, and that could result in your accreditation being suspended until it was resolved.

But Ms Allan said it was important to remember that audits were about identifying areas for practical on-farm improvement.

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