The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is calling for meat inspections to be "much tougher".
They insist that "inspectors need to act more like police and light-touch regulation needs to be scrapped." Further, the FSA's Board at a recent Open Meeting in London agreed on a number of modernizing proposals for the Meat Hygiene Service, which included increases in fees by 4%. The FSA's Chief Executive Tim Smith said reaction times "needed to be quicker at certain times." He added: "We need to be much sharper on what we do on a Saturday than we are on Wednesday."
The meat industry was returned to individual owners after WW2 with varying results in charging rates and standards. Similar alterations were made in other EU countries and opinions differed on standards on the supposedly friendlier local premises to the relentless - but more heavily supervised - workings of the bigger enterprises and their relentless slaughter-lines. These matters were raised against cross-currents of NIMBYism and difficulties in ensuring standards of local inspection.
They present recurrent problems, heightened by recent shortcomings over labelling, and prompted Tim Smith to refer to the aftermath of the Pennington Report on an Ecoli outbreak in South Wales in 2005 . He observed:
"We are moving away from tick boxes and more towards investigatory police work. If something smells wrong, it probably is." John Spence, a member of the Board and Chairman of the Welsh Food Advisory Committee added that lighter-touch regulation needed to be consigned to a bin that says "light-touch regulation does not work." He voiced his dissatisfaction that all slaughterhouses are not "up to standard." Another Board member, Margaret Gilmore, said that she was shocked that some aspects of the Pennington Report were so damning and that lessons had not been learnt from the 1990's. Fatalities could happen again, she added, "if we don't make these changes now."
Tim Smith offered examples where practices could be tightened up, such as unannounced inspections in commercial meat enterprises, eg in the separation of raw and cooked meats. Trite and repetitious these long-standing warnings are, they elicited no evidence of a personal meat-free conversion to the Board and to the audience at the Open Meeting nor to onlookers on the FSA's website. VEGA's Research Advisor was the only veggie representative looking for real farm-to-fork evidence that Dame Deidre Hutton's chairperson's desire "to knock on the head the idea that this Board wants light touch" went home. The Board must surely adduce evidence of the effect of and reactions to the revelations they are encountering. They must demonstrate much more forcefully - why not by abstinence at the Board's official functions? - a sincere expression of the meat-free idea to the millions of consumers "out there," who seek guidance and leadership. The Board's members are not even keeping up with utterances and examples expressed and impressed by Government ministers.