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Small abattoirs under threat from "gold plating" of EU regulations

by 5m Editor
17 August 2006, at 6:32pm

UK - Small abattoirs could be forced out of business by a Treasury proposal to recover the full costs of veterinary inspections of animals and carcases, says the Forum of Private Business (FPB).

At present, small abattoirs are charged an average amount for each animal inspected, rather than a full veterinary fee which can be around £90 an hour.

Large abattoirs, which can handle 60 animals in an hour, can absorb such fees; but a small abattoir may slaughter as few as 30 or 40 animals over a week.

The FPB’s Food Adviser Bob Salmon said: “There may only be just over 230 small abattoirs left, but 60,000 farm and catering businesses depend on them. Big abattoirs simply don’t want to handle small numbers of animals.”

He pointed out that small abattoirs were major suppliers of Halal and Kosher meat.

But as well as criticising the proposed increase in charges, Mr Salmon claimed that there is no need to have veterinary surgeons in small abattoirs all the time. He argued that when a new inspection system was set up after the BSE crisis, Whitehall wrongly interpreted an EU regulation as meaning that a qualified veterinary surgeon should inspect animals and carcases in abattoirs.

This has meant the hiring of many foreign vets, often with limited English language and veterinary experience. Mr Salmon said he knew of an abattoir where a Spanish vet sat in an office all day and “simply signed the forms put in front of her.”

Needless expense

“There are highly qualified meat inspectors in every abattoir, who are quite capable of carrying out all the necessary inspection tasks,” Mr Salmon said.

“We don’t need veterinary surgeons to be present as well. This cost cannot be justified, particularly in a small abattoir.”

He added: “Brussels officials have told me that when the European legislation stipulated that an ‘official veterinarian’ should be present in abattoirs, they didn’t mean this person had to be a veterinary surgeon. This is yet another, classic example of ‘gold-plating’ by UK officials.”

Peter Greig, a farmer who with his wife set up Pipers Farm to sell high quality meat through their own shops, says that if the Food Standards Agency simply charged the full amount for veterinary surgeons to be present in abattoirs without radically changing the entire system then “The whole industry would be decimated. It would be crazy.”

Inexperience

Mr Greig has written to the Food Standards Agency who would ultimately enforce the proposed changes in veterinary supervision. In his submission, he said that the shortage of British veterinary surgeons has resulted in severe problems. “The inexperience of these official veterinarians has led to serious tensions and breakdowns in communications at plant level, resulting in unreasonable and unjustifiable enforcements and sanctions,” he said.

Mr Greig claims that the present system has meant “thousands and thousands of pounds” being paid to veterinary surgeons. He argues that veterinary surgeons are not needed since “there are meat inspectors with the experience, technical and clinical skills for all the tasks, required in EU regulations, to be carried out by veterinarians.”

He concluded his letter by saying: “There are problems in the current structure with misinterpretation of regulations, overzealous enforcement, poor communication, poor co-operation, duplication of responsibilities, poor management and demoralised staff within the Meat Hygiene Service, and unnecessary waste of financial and physical resources.”

ThePoultrySite News Desk

5m Editor