5 April 1996

Stop MHS cuts now, vets warn

VETS have warned that governments unrelenting cost cutting drive must be reversed to restore public confidence in meat inspection at abattoirs.

At a conference in Leeds, members of the Veterinary Public Health Association criticised the lack of money and staff provided for slaughterhouse inspection.

One vet claimed the State Veterinary Service had been cut drastically in recent years and the Meat Hygiene Service, responsible for policing BSE control rules at abattoirs, was not properly financed. "The MHS is sailing very close to the wind in terms of financial and staff resources," he said.

Martin Cooke, outgoing president of the VPHA, said the MHS had been established as a very lean organisation and there was no flexibility to cope with unexpected crises like the BSE one.

He said many vets felt they had been let down by the MHS. "Working within the MHS has not been an easy ride for any of us. The nature of veterinary involvement in meat hygiene has changed enormously in the past 12 months. We have accepted huge cuts in input in plants and gross undermining of our authority by non-professional staff," he said.

Mr Cooke told delegates that the BSE crisis had left the British meat industry flat on its face. The role and authority of vets in abattoirs had been seriously undermined and vets in practice were also extremely worried about the cuts in vet attendance at livestock markets. "I believe we have been forced into this position by the unrelenting drive by the government for reduced costs," he said.

If consumer confidence was ever to return, then the cut-backs must stop he warned. &#42