26 April 1996

Extra cash for MHS to counter poor abattoir standards

By Tony McDougal

EXTRA government cash totalling £35m is to be paid to the Meat Hygiene Service enabling it to increase its monitoring of abattoirs in England, Scotland and Wales.

The additional cash follows recommendations by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Comm-ittee (SEAC) to increase surveillance of slaughterhouses after the State Veterinary Service uncovered serious failings in the handling of specified bovine offals last autumn.

Peter Soul, Meat Hygiene Service head of operations, told the Commons joint agriculture/health select committee that an additional 300 inspectors would be taken on over the next few months to complement the 509 already working in the red meat abattoir sector.

Every high throughput abattoir which slaughters more than 1000 cattle units a year will have an additional two staff. An extra inspector will also supervise for the first time the dressing of beef carcases in low throughput abattoirs.

Mr Soul admitted under questioning from Audrey Wise (Lab, Preston) that the MHS had failed to bring abattoir prosecutions because inspectors had often stamped meat fit for human consumption only for others to later find pieces of spinal cord in the meat.

"We have had to take disciplinary measures and 22 of our staff have undergone formal investigations. One has been dismissed and a number of staff have had final warnings issued," he revealed. Five investigations into possible prosecutions are ongoing.

Slaughterhouses will also have to thoroughly clean out the spinal canal of all soft tissues, after tiny pieces of spinal cord were discovered during investigations.

Defending the industry, Mr Soul said there had only been 21 instances in the past nine months where spinal cord had not been properly removed from carcasses, representing a 0.001% of the total beef throughput.

Richard Cracknell, deputy chief executive Anglo-Beef Proc-essors and Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers vice-president, said the rendering industry could cope with the slaughter of mature bulls and cull cows. But the 250,000-500,000 prime cattle over 30 months posed a big problem. &#42

As MPs continue their inquiry into BSE Welsh beef producers travelled to Westminster to deliver their own verdict on the crisis.