Small abattoirs could be forced to raise the cost of slaughter or risk going out of business if a proposal to recover costs of veterinary inspections of animals and carcasses is implemented, the Forum of Private Businesses has warned.

The Food Standards Agency is developing proposals to change charging arrangements for meat hygiene controls and the possible introduction of charges for Specific Risk Material controls.

Small abattoirs are charged an average amount for each animal inspected rather than a full veterinary fee, which can be as much as £90/hour.

Large abattoirs, which can handle 60 animals an hour, are capable of absorbing the full fees. But small abattoirs, slaughtering as few as 30 or 40 animals a week, are likely to struggle, said the FPB.

Bob Salmon, the forum’s food advisor, criticised the proposals and said there was no need to have vets in small abattoirs all the time.

When an inspection system was set up after the BSE crisis, the Government wrongly interpreted an EU regulation as meaning that a qualified vet should inspect animals and carcasses in abattoirs, he said.

“There are highly qualified meat inspectors in every abattoir, who are quite capable of carrying out all the necessary inspection tasks,” said Mr Salmon. 

The FSA rebuffed the comments. “The EU regulations allow veterinarians to be assisted by official auxiliaries and do not require the veterinarian to be permanently present in small slaughterhouses,” said a spokesman.

“The Meat Hygiene Service is working with the industry to make use of this flexibility.”

The FSA also dismissed suggestions the agency was proposing to recover the full cost of these controls at this time. 

“The consultation sought views on whether the present charging system, which provides a subsidy to industry, should be retained,” said the spokesman.

The FSA is considering the responses.