The poultry sector has welcomed the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) move to cut the overall cost of abattoir inspections by transforming the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) and supporting a greater use of Poultry Inspection Assistants (PIAs).
As Richard Griffiths of the British Poultry Council (BPC) explained, it started a year ago when the FSA – in response to joint red meat sector and BPC proposals on a new inspection system – set up a review of the MHS looking at how it could reduce costs without compromising meat safety or consumer confidence in the service offered.
The review resulted in two proposals – first a transformed MHS and, failing that, the introduction of a third party partner to deliver meat inspections.
Under the existing EU system based on throughput charges, the meat industry pays around £25m every year for meat inspections – but the cost to the MHS is £56m. This leaves the FSA subsidy to the MHS in the region of £30m per year. The FSA policy to move to full cost recovery – which Mr Griffiths claimed at the current level of total MHS cost is something the industry simply could not afford – prompted the strong lobbying by the industry bodies.
“Our aim is to substantially reduce the overall cost of meat inspection and we believe the best way forward is a combination of a third party partner competing with a restructured and slimmed-down MHS. At the July board meeting, the FSA opted to give the MHS a chance to restructure but it pressed it to deliver more ambitious cost-cutting targets and a revised business plan,” said Mr Grifffiths.
“It’s a good result. Our concerns in this review have not been with the quality of service provided by the MHS, just the level of the operating cost and how that could be reduced before moving to any cost recovery charging system.”
Mr Griffiths explained that if the MHS fails to meet more ambitious targets, the plan is to go live next May with the alternative approach, with hygiene inspections being delivered by a third-party partner.
Another positive from the meeting was that FSA indicated it was keen to see greater use of Poultry Inspection Assistants (PIAs) to carry out inspections. “The FSA Board’s commitment to promoting PIA use is a good outcome. To alter EC legislation that deters a greater take up of PIA’s has to be the first objective, and the board decision to push for these changes in Brussels will be very beneficial.”
Another intention is that plants can “earn autonomy” by demonstrating good performance and will ultimately see a reduced frequency of inspections, thereby increasing the responsibility of the individual operator. Again, the FSA is now committed to seeking EU legislative changes to make this possible.
“It’s a positive move in the right direction. But there is still much to do,” added Mr Griffiths.