The Covid-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions has rapidly changed the way that industry assurance schemes are verified, with greater use of digital tools. As the recent vaccine breakthrough signals an end to the pandemic, future auditing regimes are likely to see a hybrid approach between physical and virtual inspections, says the AIC.

“Pre Covid-19 the majority of AIC assurance scheme audits were carried out on site with the auditor physically visiting a company,” comments John Kelley, managing director of AIC Services. “This was a tried and tested programme that worked and had been in place for many years. It allowed an audited company to obtain certification once the necessary standards were met.”

“Both AIC and the certification bodies had been working with on-line portals and developing video auditing for a number of years, but there was limited demand to move away from the status quo,” continues Mr Kelley. “This changed dramatically – within a month of the lockdown, the auditing companies that worked with AIC had not only redesigned their online portals but had also enabled online calls as well as livestream videos. Without Covid 19, I believe it would have taken industry another five or ten years to adopt these new methods of working.”

AIC has worked with the competent authorities and the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to ensure that the remote approach also meets their requirements.
The pandemic has proved that remote auditing works and can be used to maintain standards while protecting the company and auditor alike. The adoption of new technology and the willingness of both industry and auditors to embrace new ways of working means that standards have been upheld, trade flows maintained and agrifood chain feed and food safety remained robust.

Companies now pre-populate an online portal with essential data, which allows auditors to spend more time auditing the company digitally. The audit can take place on-line via a computer or a live video link so all areas can be inspected. Non-conformance can be followed up quickly and efficiently with uploaded documents and photos.
There have been problems, most notably with internet access and quality in rural areas. Background noise can also be an issue on site, while document uploads can be time consuming.

“For the future, we think a blended approach will be taken to auditing with some audits completed onsite, but many delivered remotely. This would provide an ideal balance, ensuring the implementation of lessons learned, whilst delivering the robust auditing environment that the UK consumer expects,” concludes Mr Kelley.

• The Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority (AMTRA) has moved assessments for Registered Animal Medicines Advisor (RAMA/SQP) qualifications in both written and viva formats online for the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year.

Although this is primarily in response to Covid-19, the regulatory body highlights the additional major benefits to both candidates and employers from the increased use of virtual and online CPD training, at a time when face-to-face meetings have been restricted.

AMTRA says online assessments reduce time spent away from home and work and the associated travel costs, as well as providing more flexibility with training. Thy have also helped meet a growing requirement for qualified animal medicines advisors within registered premises during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

“We have seen significant increases in companion animal ownership through 2020, and this in turn increases demands on the provision of qualified advice on treatments and the supply of veterinary medicines,” explains AMTRA secretary general Stephen Dawson. “Similarly, the UK livestock farming industry has perhaps never received such high priority within the public conscience, and this is rightly focused on our high standards of animal health and welfare, just as it is with our love and passion for the equine industry,” he adds.

“We have a unique and valuable resource for all of these species in the UK, through our network of RAMAs, and it is essential we can maintain and build this essential distribution channel for veterinary medicines,” he continues. “If we can adapt assessment methods to make things even better in the future, we will do.”