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Flexibility Needed in Meat Hygiene Reform

by 5m Editor
16 April 2008, at 1:15pm

SCOTLAND, UK - Plans to transform the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) into a more efficient organisation were ratified in 2007, but now the National Farmers' Union for Scotland (NFUS) is calling for flexibility in the current reform of the MHS to allow for the unique situation within Scotland.

Plans to transform the MHS into a more efficient organisation were ratified in 2007.

The reform is based on the operation of ‘clusters’; groups of plants of 25 or more, the idea being that a contractor can use inspection teams flexibly over these geographical groupings which will allow cost effective provision.

The concept, whilst logical in some areas, clearly doesn’t suit many parts of Scotland where remote locations make any synergy of grouping difficult.

The Tierney Report, which drove the MHS reform process, clearly stated that remote and low throughput plants could benefit from local, individual arrangements. This is not currently happening.

Contractors must bid for a whole cluster and that process, now underway, is on a fast-track timetable. No time has been given to look at and preserve local Official Veterinarian (OV) provision (although government is at present looking for ways to underpin farm/local veterinary practices).

NFU Scotland is keen to ensure that the reform of the MHS is as cost-effective as possible since it will ultimately be the farming industry that bears the cost.

Nigel Miller, NFU Scotland Vice-President, said:

“Despite the Tierney Report and government lip-service both pointing to local provision, the MHS cluster fast-track, one size fits all, tendering process is likely to destroy the local provision of OV services and mean remote and low-throughput plants are serviced by a central contractor.

“Collaborative working, flexible hours, communicating food chain information and ensuring the individual requirements of animals are met to high welfare standards can all be enhanced by the continuity of a local provider.

“There is now no time or support system in place to allow local veterinary practises to group together to bid for a cluster and no structured review of the Highlands and Islands cluster has been undertaken prior to the tendering process despite the fact that most plants are remote and some have low throughput.

“The need to control costs is clear but communication, local commitment and the flexibility of local support should not be swept away in a dash for short term budget headlines.”

5m Editor