Review of UK meat inspection system focuses on cost recovery

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fsa Food standards agency

A review of UK food safety laws for meat processing plants could
end up with companies payingmore for inspections.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said a current review of the UK's meat inspection system aims to recover more of the cost of delivering official controls and gradually reducegovernment subsidy to the meat industry. The FSA estimates the current subsidy at about £40m(€61m) per year for meat hygiene and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) controls.

In a overview of the agency's plans, the FSA said its board has approved a programme of work to look into a range of optionsin light of EU food hygiene regulations that came into force in January 2006. In April 2006, the Meat HygieneService (MHS), in conjunction with the FSA, consulted on proposed changes to veterinary supervision arrangements.

The FSA has also consulted on revised charging arrangements for meat hygiene controls and has received proposals from the meat industry for an alternative approach.

The responses to the two consultations and the industry proposals have been taken into account in thereview, the FSA stated.

The proposed programme will have two stages. In the first stage the review team will deliver a long list of options for theregulator's board to consider at its February 2007 meeting. The board will then select the two or three options for further analysis inphase two.

Phase two will result in the review team delivering to the July 2007 board meeting a detailed analysis of the shortlistedoptions, including impact assessments, cost benefit analyses and assessments of costs, feasibility, opportunities and risks.

The review team will also make recommendations, together with a draft implementation plan. Theboard will be asked at the July meeting to decide on what changes it wants to the meat inspectionsystem.

The FSA noted that the review would also consider the potential impact of any changes --including a rise in fees -- on smaller plants.

"Any proposals to increase charges may be seen to impact disproportionately on smaller plants currentlyoperating at the margin of profitability,"​ the FSA stated. "This will raise issues around sustainability,rural economic development, local food sourcing and food miles, animal transport to slaughter and diversity and is therefore likely to attract politicalinterest."

One of the proposals the FSA is considering is to charge smaller plants in proportion to the time that vets and inspectors need to attend rather than a flat rate per animalprocessed.

Part of the programme involves developing a model of inspections based on risk. Inspectionresources would become more focused on plants that pose a potentially greater food safety risk. Theinspection system would also move to a model where most vets are directly employed by the MHS and workalongside meat inspectors in integrated teams.

The MHS would also form partnerships with industry through "operating contracts" that set out required standards and opportunities forbusinesses to earn greater autonomy.

Another option being considered would be to delegate the delivery of official controls to one or moreindependent third-party bodies. Under the legislation, a control body is an independent, impartial third-party, accredited to EN450044 or equivalent, approved and audited bythe competent authority to deliver specified tasks under contract.

"This option is favoured by some in the industry who see it as a means to improve standards, buildindustry responsibility and reduce costs,"​ the FSA stated.

Another option would be to devolve as much responsibility as possible to the industry itself for thedaily inspection tasks, with the government setting the standards to be achieved and then auditing delivery. Government would retain the duty to approvepremises and responsibility for enforcement.

Under EU legislation, this model is currently possible only in the poultry industry, the FSAnoted.

Related topics Food safety & quality

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