New EU hygiene regulations, which came into force on 1 January 2006, require all meat plants in the UK to be approved in order that they may continue to trade. All plants that were operating under cover of a licence at the end of last year will be able to continue to trade until an approval visit has been carried out.
Slaughterhouses, cutting plants and game handling establishments require veterinary control and must be approved by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Any co-located cold stores, minced meat, meat preparation or meat products establishments must also be approved by the FSA. When these operations are stand-alone, establishments must get approval by the local authority for the area.
Alick Simmons, veterinary director at the FSA, said the agency will take a firm but fair approach to re-approving meat plants and will offer as much help and support to businesses as it can.
"However, where appropriate action is not taken in order to comply with the regulations, the FSA will not hesitate to refuse approval and therefore non-compliant plants may have to close, subject to appeal," she stated.
The FSA has been working with industry over the past 12 months to help businesses comply with the new regulations. It has contacted all premises that will be affected to inform them of the changes in regulations.
The agency has also worked with industry representative bodies to publish compliance guidance and has also offered and carried out free appraisal visits to some 300 businesses, she stated.
In a report debated at an FSA board meeting yesterday the regulator noted that the EU regulations allow some of the rules to be varied as long as public health protection is maintained.
The FSA has varied some of the rules to give smaller businesses a break. For example the regulations require domestic wild game meat production to be brought under veterinary control. The FSA proposes a pilot project to apply proportionate controls to the sector.
The FSA also noted that the EU hygiene regulations are less prescriptive than the directives they replace but remove the distinction between low and full throughput plants, and have some requirements that may not be entirely proportionate for very small plants.
The Small Abattoir Federation (SAFE) and the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) have both asked the FSA to seek agreement in Brussels to adapt the new regulations for small slaughterhouses.
The FSA proposes a number of variations, all of which would require the agreement of the EU Commission and the other member states.