The news that the number of farm inspections could be cut for farmers with a good record of compliance, as part of wider government plans to cut red tape, has been welcomed by Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith.
Defra has set out its plans to implement an ‘earned recognition’ approach to farm inspections to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens on compliant farmers. Earned recognition was one of the key themes in the Farming Regulation Task Force report in May 2011.
Sir Alan said: “Red tape and dealing with administration is a necessary part of farming, but good farmers deserve recognition and should be allowed more time to get on with actually farming.
“This change will also let inspectors concentrate their efforts on the small minority of farmers who need more inspections.”
Under the plans, farmers and businesses that have demonstrated a ‘strong track record of reliability and adherence’ to high standards for on-farm inspections will earn recognition.
Although Defra said this does not necessarily mean a reduction in the total number of on-farm inspections, it will improve unity between inspecting bodies and target those who have shown a greater risk of non-compliance.
The Food Standards Agency will work with local authorities and farm assurance schemes to share information on animal feed inspections.
Local authorities carry out around 13,000 animal feed inspections per year, but Defra wants to reduce this to 5,000.
The Environment Agency undertakes around 2,700 annual farm inspections to drive farm practices to protect and improve the environment.
The main areas of regulatory activity include water quality, pollution prevention, waste management and water-resource management.
The report states a ‘potential for applying an earned recognition approach’ to these inspections, which are carried out using a ‘risk-based approach’.
In 2011-12, more than 114,000 farm visits were made by government agencies in England, costing £47million.
A report by the National Audit Office, published in December 2012, concluded farm inspections cost taxpayers too much money, were not streamlined or joined up enough and were a burden to compliant farmers.