13 December 1999
Government told to reform meat hygiene
By Alistair Driver and Isabel Davies
RADICAL proposals to overhaul the meat inspection system and reduce the amount of red tape affecting farmers have been presented to the government.
But the proposals will take years to implement – even if they are accepted by ministers – because they require changes in EU legislation and domestic laws.
Thirty-five recommendations that the government should update its approach to meat hygiene were proposed by the Meat Industry Red Tape Working Group.
The group was set up earlier this year by agriculture minister Nick Brown, following accusations that the farming sector was beset by bureaucracy.
A report by the group wants Mr Brown to press Brussels for an urgent overhaul of Britains meat inspection process which is seen by many as outdated.
The meat hygiene sector has been accused of passing on excessive costs back to livestock producers because of the expense of inspecting abattoirs.
The group wants current inspection methods replaced with a risk based system of checks known as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system.
Plant operators would be more directly involved and abattoirs and slaughter plants would be subject to unannounced spot checks by “hygiene hit squads”.
This would remove the need for full-time meat hygiene staff at every plant and bring abattoirs in line with the rest of the food industry.
Mr Brown told the House of Commons: “I shall be considering the report very carefully with my colleagues and will give our response in the New Year.”
Working group chairman Robin Pooley said the recommendations will act as a “policy signpost” for ministers as they discussed changes to meat hygiene rules.
“Moving to the risk-based system would be more cost effective as it would reduce the need to have meat inspectors standing around in plants,” he said.
The new system would mean that meat inspectors would focus their attention on plants with a low level of hygiene, rather than all plants regardless of risk.
Microbiological tests would be introduced to monitor bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella, said Mr Pooley.
Penalties for breaking the rules would have to become tougher if the system is to work, he said.
Current charges levied by the Meat Hygiene Service, particularly on low throughput abattoirs, made the meat industry uncompetitive on the global market.
Savings made by focusing attention on poorly-performing abattoirs could then be passed back to farmers, said Mr Pooley.
“We recommend the ministry finds some way of capping low throughput charges without passing them on to the bigger abattoirs,” he said.
Stephen Rossides, NFU head of livestock, said the report set out a lot of specific, common sense recommendations that would help the industry.
He added: “It will take time for the EU legislation to change, but it is important that the minister addresses the measures that he can as quickly as possible.”
Other red-tape review groups are expected to complete reports shortly on the Integrated Administrative Control System (IACS) and the intervention system.