UK processors question publication of inspection data
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that it is making these reports public in order to promote greater transparency, drive up standards and improve compliance. Around 200 reports will be published every month, with the ‘cause for concern’ list updated on a weekly basis. The FSA has confirmed that plants named as a cause for concern do not pose an immediate threat to human health, but have been informed that they must put improvements in place to come up to the required standards.
Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA, said: "We think it’s important that people have access to this type of information; it shows not only the FSA’s commitment to publishing all useful information, but we hope publication will also help businesses to maintain high standards in this vital food sector.”
The publication of audits has long been contested by meat industry officials - not because they are opposed to greater transparency but because they say the audits are subjective, inconsistent and can be too easily misinterpreted, which could potentially have a detrimental effect on businesses. They have called for the whole auditing process to be overhauled.
Peter Hewson, the former deputy veterinary director of the FSA, now a consultant working with the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), said: “Everyone agrees that the publication of audits is a good thing, as long as it is reliable.
“The basic problem is that the scores which cause the plants to be on the [cause for concern] list are incredibly subjective. There is so much inconsistency between scoring and auditing.
“The situation can only be reformed if a relatively small number of experienced auditors carried out the audits, who were independent of the plants they are working in. At the moment, the audits are carried out by the official veterinarians (OV) who are permanently stationed at the plant and conflicts arise between them and the operators.”
The FSA has already committed to a review of the system in order to make them easier for food business operators and the public to understand, and this is expected to be completed by April.