19 March 1999

Call to reassess MHS fees

By FW reporters

PRESSURE is mounting on the government to reassess the way slaughterhouses and cutting plants are charged for meat hygiene inspections.

There has been an outcry since last weeks announcement that costs for specified risk material control inspections, previously paid by the government, would be passed back to the meat trade from Apr 1.

The estimated £21m bill could force many small abattoirs out of business and there are increasing calls from the industry and MPs for charges to be based on a plants throughput rather than the current hourly rate for inspections.

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker has instructed MAFF officials to investigate switching to a throughput charge, but any change would need another round of industry consultation and new legislation.

Operators of small slaughterhouses across the country believe the new costs could break them.

In Wilts, Marion Parker, owner of a mobile slaughterhouse developed with animal welfare as a top priority, insisted that switching charges to a throughput system was the only way to save her business.

The mobile unit, currently operating at Castle Coombe, is licensed for 20 cattle units a week and its customers include the Prince of Waless organic farm.

Another customer, Sir Julian Rose from Oxon, who sends his organic pigs, sheep and cattle to be slaughtered and prepared for sale in his farm shop, has written to farm minister Nick Brown protesting about the extra charges and the damage they will inflict on many small businesses.

Simon Leach, from Royston, Cambs, runs a small abattoir mainly to supply his butchers shop. He reckons his £175/month inspection bill would rise to £1750. He, too, supports a headage payment.

Unless that was introduced he was convinced more small abattoirs would have to close because they could not pass the extra charges on to anyone. "Under the proposed system only the biggest abattoirs and supermarkets will gain. Everyone else will be losers."

Village shops

In Brundish, Suffolk, Ian Whitehead and his wife Sue have spent the past 10 years building up a pigmeat business, supplying about 40 village shops in East Anglia.

Until now, the couple have been paying the Meat Hygiene Service £40 for a one-hour monthly inspection of the small meat cutting plant they built. The new charges will mean the bill will rise to £720/month.

"The whole situation is so farcical it goes beyond belief," said Mr Whitehead, who believes the business will be unable to absorb the costs. &#42

GM register could protect land values

By Jonathan Riley

THE Royal Institution of Char-tered Surveyors has called for a national register of land planted with genetically-modified crops because it fears that public concern over GMs will hit land values.

And it has suggested that tenant farmers could be left footing the bill for any drop in land values.

"The growing of GM crops on let land could conceivably be deemed a breach of terms of the tenancy agreement under the requirements to farm in accordance with the rules of good husbandry," said the RICS in its response to the governments review of the framework for overseeing developments in biotechnology.

"This may affect the value of the landlords reversionary interest and tenants could face claims for dilapidation."

The report also warned of legal claims by growers selling GM-free crops who have their marketing status jeopardised by the threat of cross-pollination from modified crops grown on nearby farms.

RICS countryside policy panel chairman Julian Sayers believed public concern over GMs was certain to affect the value of farms.

He called for a public register of GM crop plantings so that any commercial cultivation could be traced by a thorough recording system to alert prospective buyers or tenants to the lands history.

Reg Haydon, chairman of the Tenant Farmers Association, said the points raised were sound and the issue would be discussed when the TFA met the RICS later this month.

"It is possible that, under good husbandry rules within an agreement, growing GM crops could be a breach of the tenancy," he said.

But Bob Fiddaman, the NFUs representative on the industry GM forum, SCIMAC, dismissed the surveyors call.

"This once again appears to be a decision based not on rationale, but on the back of media hype over genetic modification," he said. &#42

Junior farm minister Elliott Morley helps complete a hedgerow, on the Kent County Agricultural Showground, planted as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Society chairman, Terry Stanford, explained that over the next five years the KCAS hoped to plant 2.5km of hedgerow to improve the site for both wildlife and visitors.

Share dip disposal cost

SCOTTISH farmers may be able to share the charges for sheep dip disposal being introduced from Apr 1 under groundwater regulations.

Scottish NFU environment convener Henry Murdoch said: "The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency has already indicated that crofters can submit a joint application for accreditation to dispose of sheep dips from common grazings. We are hopeful that neighbouring farmers may also make a joint application.

"The £120 charge for authorisation of disposals is an extra burden and one solution could be for a group of three or four farmers to have a joint disposal on one farm."

The £120 charge in Scotland covers a prior application to dispose of wastes in the year ahead. It covers all sites on a farm and allows for an unlimited number of dippings.

There is a charge of £84 for every disposal from every site on farms in England and Wales. &#42