Meat on sale at farmers marts breaks EU rules
By Mike Stones
UP to 80% of Britains 300 farmers markets could be forced to close because red tape means they are selling meat illegally, a leading Suffolk farmer and retailer warned this week.
"I dread to think what would happen if we were obliged to obey the letter of EU regulations," said Eric Moss. " Up to 80% of producers selling meat at farmers markets are getting their meat cut up illegally."
Under EU legislation introduced in November 1994, any retail butcher can cut meat for sale in his own premises under the control of the environmental health officers. But butchers cannot cut meat for sale by second parties unless they hold a cutting licence, explained Mr Moss.
"If the directive was enforced, a few of us who live near to an EU cutting plant could continue to sell our own meat, but farmers in whole areas of middle England and the south-west would not."
It is not a health issue, purely a legal one, said Mr Moss.
"Until (Prime Minister) Tony Blair and (farm minister) Nick Brown realise they have the power to tell the Food Standards Agency to sort this legal mess out, possibly with a derogation for farm retailers, it will continue."
James Pavitt, co-ordinator with the National Association of Farmers Markets, reports concern among his members that few will have access to butchers with cutting licences. "Its a potential problem. Shortening the food chain and improving traceability should be encouraged rather than strengthening bureaucracy," said Mr Pavitt.
He believes the European Parliament is pressing for the UK to comply with the legislation introduced seven years ago.
Rural campaigner Caroline Cranbrook said: "It could cost between £10,000 and £20,000 to set up a cutting plant." But she believed that government aid, possibly via the rural development agencies, could help farmers invest in their own cutting facilities.
However, Gareth Jones, national consultant to the Farm Retail Association, said fears about farm retailers failing to comply with meat cutting laws were premature.
"We should wait a month or two to learn the results of the working party study set up by the Food Standards Agency," he said.
• For more information on farmers markets, see p29.