[This article is a summary of a more detailed article on the benefits of assurance by Clive Dibben that was published in the BDFA Deer Farming, No. 71, Winter 2002. The full document is available at www.2ndpillarprojects.com along with other information on assurance.]
I have never met a farmer who asked for quality assurance or said he liked it - in fact most would probably say they hate assurance and can't see the point in it. So why do it? After all, producers are the ones who pay for it, both through inspection costs and the cost of complying with what are often seen as silly or petty rules. It adds to the workload, whether through day-to-day requirements, or giving up the time for an inspection.
And at the end of it all, what does it do for the producer? There's no guarantee of a premium and it's often questionable how much it really matters to the buyers.
All in all, many farmers reckon that assurance does nothing to help them at all. And as nobody else does it, why should they?
Bureaucracy and paperwork
A common complaint is that assurance programs add to the bureaucracy of farming. Certainly, there is a lot more paperwork involved in farming than there used to be. (And much more in cervid farming than in other livestock sectors). If you are in "food" production, you are already required to follow many laws and regulations.
Bureaucracy comes down to one thing - can you prove you have done what you are supposed to have done? Or, in some case such as medicine withdrawals, can you prove you haven't done things you are not allowed to?
Bureaucracy is usually viewed as being negative. But it does have some positive aspects. For example, it can help protect you and your business by demonstrating that you have complied with all relevant regulations. This can reduce your exposure to risks and potential liability. (This is the "cover your butt" approach already being used by many other sectors of our society).
Record keeping does not have to be unnecessarily difficult or complicated. It can be done using a notebook or a computer, whichever is most appropriate to the size of the enterprise.
There is one sad conclusion to be drawn from all this - whether you choose to become involved in an assurance program or not, bureaucracy on farms is increasing.
No guaranteed premium
Another common complaint is that being on a quality assurance program does not guarantee a premium for your venison products. But then again, there are few guarantees in the farming business.
Being able to differentiate your product is essential to survival unless you can survive as the lowest-cost producer. Assurance is one very good way of differentiating and segmenting markets.
It doesn't help
Another common view held by farmers is that, despite all the fine words, assurance really doesn't help. Supermarkets are so big, they do as they please. If supplies are short they'll buy anything - assured or not.
Other producers believe they are safe because they have a secure local market selling direct to consumers who know them and trust their products. That may be so, but if venison becomes a nameless commodity on supermarket shelves, how long will it be before prices are eroded even for those at the top end of the market? It is a mistake to think any of us operate in isolation to other meat markets and suppliers.
Some farmers believe they are too big to need assurance or too small to be bothered. But on an international market, the biggest will need to be very big to compete on price with those for whom the factors of production may cost a fraction of what it costs us.
On price, smaller producers have no chance of matching bigger producers at home or abroad. So they must sell on other attributes and assurance is the one way they can prove the added benefits that their particular systems deliver.
With the globalization of the food supply, consumers are rightly concerned about the quality and safety of the food they buy and eat. It is inevitable that, in order to compete with other meat sectors, farmed venison will have to adopt and accept a credible quality assurance program. So despite all the hassles, the deer and elk farming industry better get on the assurance wagon.