22 January 1999

Inspectors on the offensive

FARMERS face feeding a massive backlog of livestock following a threat by meat hygiene inspectors to cause serious disruption at abattoirs.

Almost 1000 meat inspectors in a pay dispute with the government-run Meat Hygiene Service have voted for a series of strikes which, they claim, will cost the industry millions of £s and in some cases completely halt meat production.

Meat inspectors oversee livestock slaughter at Britains 400 or so abattoirs, the largest of which process up to 500 cattle and 3000 sheep a day. The strike threat has fuelled fears that farmers could be left holding livestock unless the action is averted.

"Animals will have to be kept on farms until they can be slaughtered in the appropriate way," said Janet Lim of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers.

Unison, the public service union behind the strikes, confirmed it would give seven days notice before calling out its members, making any action unlikely until next month at the earliest. Each strike will last one, two, or three days.

A spokesman for the Meat and Livestock Commission advised producers not to withhold animals from abattoirs until the actual strike dates were known.

"The amount of money needed to prevent this dispute is a drop in the ocean compared to the amount it will cost in lost production," said Keith Sonnet, Unisons assistant general secretary.

The meat inspectors are emp-loyed by the MHS which is understood to have urged local councils to divert environmental health experts to abattoirs to allow slaughter to continue if the action goes ahead. &#42