VEGA News Item

Food Standards Agency’s Responsibilities Dispersed - 06/09/2010

Charities Upset by Changes in Safety, Security and Research

Like Christmas the Easter holiday is always an Important Time for the Meat Industry

1. “Like Christmas the Easter holiday is always an important time for the meat industry, with an increase in slaughter and consumption of meat. This year Easter will also be important for the industry as it marks the establishment of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) new Operations Group,” said Steve McGrath, Chief Executive, Meat Hygiene Service, explaining that “some in the meat industry will see the integration of the MHS into the FSA as a ‘victory’,” which verdict he shares, “but not necessarily for the same reasons” (Meat Trade Journal, 05/02/10).

2. The MHS’ status as an executive agency will go and, over time, the MHS logo will be replaced with the FSA logo. “But what will not change in April is the commitment and skills of the meat inspectors and vets as they undertake verification, audit, and inspection services. This will continue as it has done since 1995, when the MHS was created,” concludes Steve McGrath, who has recently left the MHS for a job with the Soil Association.

3. However, there remain what we consider to be flaws in the claims, information, and labelling of meat and offals, and the conditions of the workers and the absence from the meetings of recognized and well-informed animal welfare (“animal defenders”) and environmental organizations remain lamentable. We at VEGA try to assert the highest standards for upkeep and slaughter that we think should be drawn from regulations governing the Home Office for slaughter (eg from “spent” subjects from experiments) and for animals confined (and sold) in lairages, zoos, circuses and “petting” farms. Professor Colin Blakemore, now head of a Neurobiology Group at Oxford University and a chairman of a group at the FSA, has provided us with useful information and opinions (including his own dietary choices and aversions) on matters relating to ritual (“religious”) practices.

4. Steve McGrath describes the establishment of the FSA’s Operations Group as “a positive move for the consumer, FSA, and MHS staff, and the meat industry.” It marks the final step in the transformation of the MHS, “as we will become part of a stronger and more unified FSA,” says Steve McGrath. The focus of the new group will be the consistent delivery of food safety and standards official controls across the UK. And, the long term aim of the new group will be to enhance public health protection, achieve greater food safety compliance and reduce food poisoning. In the short term the improvement will be driven by a structural change. The Operations Group will streamline enforcement support and act as a single voice of enforcement and delivery across the Agency and across the UK. All the FSA’s operational delivery functions – from monitoring local authorities to milk production, hygiene, and meat inspection – will be merged into a single UK group. However, asserting authority and control in matters in which consumers, the politicians and their PRs, and the industry exhibit much dissembling and appeals to the right not to know will require much attention, especially when premature forecasts of the depth of Recession might have been expected to abandon the niceties of the environment and of animal welfare while conniving at dissolute production and consumption.

5. VEGA attends nearly all of the Open Meetings of the FSA in London and has led pickets and leafleting outside Aviation House, the FSA’s headquarters, protesting the environmental and welfare aspects of the Agency’s work, with special emphasis on animal welfare, and complaining at the squalor of the MHS work with what could be the pleasanter jobs promising in happier policies for alternatives and Green developments. However, the MHS has scored well in prosecutions prompted by lapses in hygiene and cruelty, and there is no doubt of its deterrent role: it is better to forestall such challenges before the cruelties have occurred. Minutes of the Open meetings are copious and they are useful sources of information. Webcasts of the meetings, which are held by rotation in other cities are easily available. We urge consumer representatives to collate and ponder and act on the wealth of information they contain, as well as the challenges they keep throwing up (which is an appropriate reaction to some of the evidence the FSA has to deal with).

6. Likewise, we commend the minutes of the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) for its Open Meeting of 05 July 2010 to the press and to all champions of animal welfare and to people contemplating dietary change and the old and new challenges posed by the longstanding defects in agricultural policies, going against the grain, and in tackling the new but cognate matters of global warming and production of biofuels and other means of generating power (eg. by mechanical manipulations of wind, wave, tide, and solar energy and heat pumps), to appreciate the immediate and urgent reforms needing action, not just years more of committees and meetings. Some sense of history and testimony introduces these latest minutes with a nice summary of progress since the Brambell Report of 1965, which was prompted by Ruth Harrison’s book, published a year or so earlier, called Animal Machines. Ruth was an ordinary lay consumer, except that she was a Quaker and in several enterprises for “the common good” in alliance with ve
getarian and animal welfarists.

7. “Welfare had not improved significantly over the last decade,” in spite of many efforts made by industry, conceded Huw Davies, Chairman of the Ruminants Standing Committee, introducing the FAWC’s Opinion on the Welfare of the Dairy Cow. We invite readers to look at the list of attendees at this meeting and what their example at the trough demonstrated. Not much sign of observance there of adherence to to the Grow Food, not Feed principles and Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming, but the RSPCA has been little more active. No attendee was there professing the CIWF interest; nor from the various Vegetarian and Vegan Societies, except for VEGA, of whom there were two of us; nor from the Soil Association, Sustain, nor the Consumers’ Association. Supermarkets, government officials, and livestock farmers were there in force doing the jobs for which they are prepared and trained to do. The lack of veggy representation and the connivance by many so-called animal welfarists with the continuing evils of the dairy/beef/veal industry are an appalling betrayal of a cause that has been upheld by the Few. We therefore commend the FAWC’s output to the cheesytarians and celebs who refuse to blink the evils in the industry that purveys the milk of human unkindness and have not even the sincerity to support the testimony and research the campaigners advise.

8. VEGA is proud to describe the picket and leafletting it carried out at the meeting and within. These people were all volunteers, adoption of whose message and example would enormously lessen the thrall of ill-treatment and distress avoidably inflicted on millions of farm animals each year, not to mention the degrading conditions for human workers in what have been aptly described as “the offensive trades.”


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