Plant closure after hygiene downgrade
A DRAMATIC downward re-evaluation of its hygiene standards by a new meat hygiene inspector has forced a profitable Hereford meat plant to close this week.
The Mead Webber meat plant at Eardisley, which processed 350,000 lambs a year and had been operating for 19 years, shut down on Wednesday with the loss of 42 jobs.
After five years of being awarded hygiene assessment scores between 75 and 85 by 16 different inspectors, a new inspector recently gave the plant an unofficial score of less than 60. If that score had become official it would have led to increased inspection levels at the plant.
The inspector also imposed restrictions on the plant which cut throughput from 250 lambs an hour to just 85. Mr Mead was left in no doubt there would be more restrictions to come.
"They were coming at us from all angles," he said. "We could have carried on. But in 12 months time maybe we may have been in a position where we could not pay our bills and we did not want that to happen."
He said the closure has nothing to do with trading conditions, claiming that Mead Webber was a profitable company that has just had one of its best years.
The company has spent £250,000-300,000 on upgrading the plant in the past three years and has worked well with the MHS in the past, he said.
Speaking to farmers weekly a Meat Hygiene Service spokesman defended the actions of the vet.
"As far as the MHS is concerned, we are there to protect the consumer. The inspection at Mead Webber was carried out by an experienced vet who came to the plant and in several areas was not happy," he said.
"He brought this to the attention of the owner who, rather than address the problems, chose to close the plant."
Commenting on the much lower score than had been previously awarded, he said the new vet came with a "fresh pair of eyes".
National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley said the closure will have serious repercussions for local farmers.
It shows that that the Meat Hygiene Service is based on subjective assessments, he added. He questioned whether the MHS stance was influenced by the governments desire to have meat processing concentrated into a few large companys hands. *