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Farm Unions Slam Meat Inspection Charge Proposals

by 5m Editor
30 March 2009, at 11:13a.m.

UK - British farming unions have branded the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) proposals for a nine per cent rise in meat inspection charges at abattoirs as inappropriate, ill-judged and unaffordable to the meat and livestock sector.

The union comments come in its response to an FSA consultation on proposed changes to the charges for official meat controls carried out in Scottish abattoirs and due to come into force from 29 June 2009.

The preferred option put forward by the FSA is to increase meat inspection charges in June this year by a massive 9 per cent. The lowest cost option proposed by the FSA would still see charges increase by 4 per cent.

The unions said the proposals were developed in a different economic climate and the increased charges were based on an inflation figure that is now vastly inaccurate.

In addition, retailer pressure on the meat sector to provide low cost products during this time of recession, coupled with the still high costs of primary production, places processors in an impossible situation where increases simply are not affordable. Even the lowest proposed increase of four per cent could have a severe impact on the viability of meat plants and the production chain as a whole with the FSA’s ‘preferred’ option of nine per cent being totally unrealistic, the unions said.

Alistair Mackintosh, chairman of the NFU livestock board, believes there should even be a reduction in charging levels throughout the meat supply chain with all unnecessary costs driven out.

He said: "I realise that the official meat controls provide assurances that slaughterhouses, meat cutting plants and game handling establishments produce meat for human consumption that is safe and that animal health and welfare requirements at slaughter are met. We’re fully supportive of the need to protect public health. But there is absolutely no justification for any increase especially in the current economic climate.

"The NFU does agree with the introduction of time-based charging but we don’t want to see any abattoirs, particularly those that are low throughput and in remote areas of the country, experience unnecessary cost burdens. We also believe that there should be a joint Government and industry effort to change EU regulation to remove, where appropriate, the level of official controls needed by external inspection bodies within red meat plants.

"Many of the elements of meat hygiene are for the benefit of the public and it should be within their interest to contribute to the end cost of producing this hygienic and safe meat. This should then be reflected in the tax payer contribution to these controls and not therefore removing the need to force the producers into paying for any additional charges."

NFU Scotland’s Vice-President, Nigel Miller said that Scotland’s abattoirs have been under pressure for a long time, with many plants ceasing trading over the years as a result of increased regulation and costs of compliance. During the current financial downturn plants are more vulnerable than ever.

"There is a need to preserve our remaining abattoir base and, therefore, support the Scottish Government’s own ambitions for a successful food sector. This will require the deferral of such swingeing charges," Mr Miller said.

"That makes this consultation entirely inappropriate at this time. The proposed increases to charges were developed in a totally different economic climate and this consultation should have been withdrawn by the FSA Board and reconsidered in the light of recent economic developments and the need to preserve a healthy livestock production base and meat processing sector," added Mr Miller.

He said the proposed charging increases, first put forward in 2008, now appear ill-judged and are simply not affordable for the industry. To push ahead with this proposal risks further damaging the important but shrinking meat processing sector in Scotland. "It will have a negative impact on Scotland’s livestock farmers as costs inevitably get passed down the chain and will ultimately impact on the wider Scottish economy," said Mr Miller.

"The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), as operated by the FSA, is currently undergoing a restructuring process and, whilst we recognise that significant savings have already been achieved, there is still a long way to go. Until the MHS has been fully transformed and can be considered efficient, effective and value for money it seems inappropriate for the FSA to consider transferring these costs in full onto industry," he said.

"Whilst the livestock industry recognises the need for meat hygiene controls to protect public health and provide consumer confidence in meat products, these controls should be based on proportionate risk assessments and up to date scientific evidence to show their necessity. Where there is no evidence to show any risk, or where the risk is so small to be almost negligible then it seems unreasonable for the FSA to expect meat industry to bear the full cost of theoretical or minimal risks to human health," concluded Mr Miller.