Budget tipped to provide funds for hygiene inspections
By Alistair Driver
THE Welsh Assembly may be about to announce funding to relieve the impact of meat hygiene inspection costs on small and medium-sized abattoirs, Welsh farm minister Carwyn Jones has indicated.
Campaigners behind a 120,000-signature petition handed in to Downing Street on Thursday calling for urgent action to save the ailing sector said the Welsh move would put pressure on the rest of the UK to follow suit.
At the Soil Association annual general meeting in Cardiff on Saturday, Mr Jones said that although he didnt want to prejudice budget talks, he was hoping to announce funding for the sector on Oct 19.
The associations abattoir campaign co-ordinator, Bob Kennard, said Welsh abattoirs would be faced with much lower production costs than the rest of the country. This would increase the pressure on the government to implement the recommendations of the Maclean report.
The task force report, published in June, urges the government to spend between £14m and £19m to avert the "serious decimation" of the small and medium-sized abattoir sector. This would enable a switch from hourly charging for meat inspection costs to a cheaper headage rate for small plants.
The government has been roundly criticised for not implementing the Maclean recommendations, which have been backed by more than 200 diverse organisations.
A Food Standards Agency spokesman said ministers were still considering the report.
Campaigners say 21 abattoirs have already closed this year and many more will follow after April 1, 2001, when full-time veterinary inspection becomes mandatory.
This will push the hourly cost of inspection to over £40 per beef animal for some small plants, says the Small Abattoir Federation.
The campaign was boosted on Tuesday by the launch of a report by "Honest Food, the Campaign for Independent Food".
It said government misregulation "has had a disproportionate effect on small and medium-sized businesses, diminishing consumer choice and severely damaging the rural economy". *