31 March 1995

Weekend start for meat watchdog

THE governments £53m a year Meat Hygiene Service starts work tomorrow (Sat) despite MPs efforts to block it.

With a staff of 947 it will take over meat inspection from local authorities in slaughterhouses throughout Britain.

However dozens of MPs have signed an early day motion calling for the regulations setting up the MHS to be scrapped and Labour leaders have begun proceedings to try to have the regulations annulled.

The regulations have been referred to a Commons standing committee for scrutiny. In the meantime they will still come into force tomorrow and in an attempt to deflect some of the criticisms over the MHSs charges MAFF has announced a temporary subsidy scheme.

Junior farm minister Angela Browning said on Wednesday she was planning to let the MHS offer a £2 rebate on its £14/hour (red meat) and £12.50/hour (poultry) inspection charge for the first six months of 1995/96 and £1/hour rebates for the second six months.

She is also planning to put a £35 cap on the official veterinary surgeons hourly rate. Mrs Browning said she could not take final decisions until the statutory consultation process is completed in mid-April and any MHS rebates must not allow inspection charges to fall below the EUs standard charge.

"I will shortly be publishing performance targets for the MHS which are designed to ensure the chief executive maximises efficiency and minimises costs. The MHS will be expected to recover the full economic cost of its chargeable services form the industry from 1996/97 onwards," she said.