2 February 1996

Many abattoirs refuse to stump up MHScharges

By Tony McDougal

A THIRD of the UK abattoir industry is withholding millions of £s in charges from the Meat Hygiene Service, claiming they are illegal under EU law.

Up to 120 firms have refused to pay the charges demanded by the agency since it was launched by the government last April, resulting in a £14m shortfall in its annual budget.

The House of Commons heard on Wednesday that the MHS has served writs on three firms as test cases, including a pig slaughterhouse, run by Sammy Morphet, at Widnes, Cheshire. The cases could be heard in the High Court later this month.

The debate was brought by Eddie OHara (Labour, Knowsley South), who questioned the efficiency, consistency and cost-effectiveness of the MHS. Mr OHara cited the higher charges facing the Angelsey-based abattoir Cig Mon Cymru since the MHS took over running of slaughterhouse inspections from the local authority.

"In March 1995 it received its last bill from its local authority for inspection charges at its abattoir in Llangefni, which came to £9945.18 for 60,061 sheep slaughtered in a four-week period – 16.56p a sheep.

"On June 27, it received its first invoice from the MHS for the two-week period 3rd to the 14th of April, 1995, when 25,699 sheep were slaughtered, costing £6405 or 24.92p a sheep – a 50% rise ."

Mr Morphet said he later faced an extra £30,000 a year for his average throughput of 2000-3000 pigs a week, though he has refused to pay up, claiming the new system is a shambles.

Included in this charge was an annual bill for £12,000 for monthly analysis of eight pigs kidneys a month. During last summer, MHS officials arrived at his abattoir with a refrigerator which they plugged into his electricity supply without asking permission.

Eight kidneys a month were placed in the refrigerator by MHS inspectors. But from June to December nobody came from the MHS to collect them. However, in mid-December, Mr Morphet received a £5000 bill for the refrigerated kidneys.

Many of the 120 firms are members of either the Quality Meat and Livestock Alliance (QMLA) or the northern-based Berman groups, which claim that the legality of the MHS charges has already been referred to the European Court of Justice.

Mr OHara told the House that many firms had lost faith in the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers. They felt the big operators, or the FFMW hierarchy, were supporting the MHS because its operation would drive the small operators like Mr Morphet out of business.

Richard North, QLMA consultant, said that if the High Court ruled that the new cases should be decided in Europe it could be years before the MHS received its money.

"It would have to be bailed out by taxpayers, possibly amounting to more than £100m," Mr North claimed. &#42