What do we mean by traceability within livestock farming?
Traceability means being able to determine exactly where the food on your plate comes from. This doesn’t just mean the country of origin, it means the exact farm and the exact breed of animal. Full traceability should enable a customer to find out not only where the animal was reared but how it was reared. It also tells the story of how the meat was transported and how it was prepared.
Why is traceability important?
It gives the customer more control over what they buy and consume. It enables them to make decisions based on things like ethics and environmental issues. As a customer, traceability gives you insights into animal welfare and whether the farm is environmentally friendly. It also ensures the quality of the product.
Having full traceability also puts more trust in the producer. It is less likely that corners will have been cut along the production line. Customers are more likely to trust a product with full traceability than one without.
Why can it help market your meat?
Being more transparent with your customers can market your meat better. Increasingly, people are leaning towards better quality produce. And they want meat reared in an environmentally and sustainable way. By advertising your meat for example as a low carbon product, outdoor-reared, or one that is healthier for the consumer, it is likely to sell better. Not only that, but customers who care about where their meat comes from are likely to pay more for it. Research has shown that consumers will pay more for products that display information like animal welfare and meat safety.
What are some of the schemes available that demonstrate how your livestock is bred and managed?
Anyone involved in the steps of the food production industry is required by the Foods Standards Agency to keep detailed records. These include the description of the food, the name and address of where it was produced and shipped to, and a reference code for identifying the specific batch.
Governmental schemes help to keep track of all livestock reared within the UK. This is an important factor in ensuring traceability.
The British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) is responsible for maintaining the database which tracks all cattle movement within Great Britain. The Livestock Information Service (LIS) in England, ScotEID in Scotland, APHIS in Northern Ireland and eidcymru in Wales work in a similar fashion.
Each of these help to track and trace livestock and make it easier to deal with situations such as the outbreak of animal diseases.
As well as abiding by UK and local laws by recording all movement of your livestock, you can also become a member of various initiatives or certifications to increase the transparency and traceability of your products.
Pasture for Life is a great initiative to be part of. If you guarantee only rearing your livestock on grass and pasture, then it is worth applying for certification. You will then be able to use the logo on your packaging along with a barcode that customers can scan to find out more about your farm and the animals you’ve reared.
Other well-known labels are the PGI- or PDO-certification logos. Both protected geographical indication (PGI) and protected designation of origin (PDO) give assurance to customers that the product they are buying cannot be recreated anywhere else in the world. The geographical location has the unique environment and conditions to create the product. These are recognised certifications that can improve the marketability of your meat products.
An Integrated Scheme that Maximises Traceability
UK food business, Blade Farming, part of ABP, works closely with Sainsbury’s to produce an integrated beef supply chain within the UK. They have called it Gamechanger, because that’s what they say it is – a gamechanger for the farmers and for the consumers.
Dairy farmers, rearers and finishers are provided with security and stability as they are offered transparent, guaranteed prices if they agree to using the very best Aberdeen Angus genetics. This means that they are not subjected to fluctuating and volatile market prices.
Beef calves are used from dairy farms and are reared under strict protocols. This ensures a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to beef farming. Rearers receive their calves at 12 weeks from Blade Farming. They also receive AgriWebb software to help measure, manage and benchmark performance.
The cattle reach market weight at 20 months, some 4 or 5 months sooner than is typical. This means rearers or finishers can have more batches through the farm. Importantly, fewer emissions are created.
Most importantly, the consumer knows the type of cattle, where it is from, how it was treated. And they can rely on a consistent cooking and eating experience.
What can we expect in the future in terms of traceability needs?
We already have a traffic light system in place for some products.; These detail ‘good’, ‘ok’, or ‘bad’ levels of things like sugar and salt. Now, conscious of climate change, we may start to see things like ‘carbon scores’ on our food packaging. This way we can determine how environmentally friendly the food we are buying really is. We are already seeing the term ‘carbon neutral’ appearing on packaging, for example.
Foundation Earth trialled this exact thing in 2021. They have developed a method for determining the overall environmental impact of a product using a Life Cycle Assessment. Because it considers the entire supply chain, each step in the process can be assessed and changed to improve the Eco Impact Score. This score can then be displayed on the product packaging. Therefore, consumers can make a well-informed choice about the products they buy. In the UK, Morrisons became the first supermarket to launch Planet Friendly Eggs, their carbon neutral eggs. And to understand the impact on the planet, record keeping is essential from the farm through to the retailer’s shelves.
Traceability of our food enables us to determine not just where our food has come from. It details each and every step in its process, including the environmental impact of our food.
To find out more about AgriWebb, click here.