VEGA News Item

Scores on Doors - 17/03/2008
Restaurants urged to put hygiene rating on their doors
Restaurants urged to put hygiene rating on their doors

1. Proposals for a national voluntary scheme for grading the cleanliness of all food premises in the country – including supermarkets, hotels, cafes, fast-food chains, and sandwich shops – were discussed by the Food Standards Agency’s Board last week. In yet another – and indeed overdue – onslaught on the squalid and disastrous meat industry the FSA asserts that “every food outlet in the country – from local takeaway to the finest Michelin-starred restaurant – should publish its ratings where customers can see them”. If owners refuse to comply with this Scores on Doors scheme, the watchdog is likely to demand new laws to force them to do so.

2. In a 2-year pilot scheme in 84 local authorities in England almost 74,000 restaurants and food premises have already been ranked for their hygiene by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs), and scores are available on the internet. The FSA now aims at extending the scheme to the 400 councils in England and for about 400,000 outlets. Leicester City Council and Denmark have provided some useful precedents for the full FSA scheme and possibilities of raising standards.

3. The British Hospitality Association has concerns about the scheme. In particular it fears that a system based on stars will be confused with the star-rating system for quality hotels. John Dyson, the Association’s technical director, says: “If there is going to be a scheme it needs to be national, voluntary, and administered by the FSA. It has to be easy to understand for consumers and business”. These are mild reservations compared with the reception the Association of Independent Meat Supplier has been given to proposals by the FSA “to make meat processing plants meet the full cost of meat hygiene inspections, which could spell the end of more small abattoirs” (Western Mail 04 March 2008).

4. We have already reported on some of these meaty matters, which are of concern to veggies eating out, reading labels, paying taxes, and acting as discriminating consumers and citizens. We can now report the relevant responses from the FSA. A spokeswoman has said that “the meat industry has engaged a high and increasing level of subsidy from the taxpayer for the past 7 years. In fact £190 million of public money has been put into supporting the meat industry between 2001 to 2007 and this subsidy has given the meat industry the economic space to modernize, but that period is now closing. Government policy is not to use taxpayers’ money for longterm subsidy of private businesses”.

5. Although the FSA is in current consultations with industry stakeholders, the spokeswoman said: “We are clear, however, that the removal of public subsidy will be phased over several years to enable meat businesses to adjust”. She added: “The aim was to recover all the costs”, but she recognised that “some small and geographically isolated meat plants will need further transitional support and it will take this into consideration in its policy”.

6. We can find some redress for these prolonged favours for the meat industry and its many shortcomings in the increased value of vouchers for fruit and veg and milk for families on income support. However, at this time of electioneering and political posturing, many opportunities beckon for that most impressive consumer footprint of all – the discriminating thrifty choice of the canny customer. Meat reducers and veggies of all sorts cannot live in capsules of isolation from the meat and dairy industries and the evils they spread by contamination of food, medical and dental supplies, equipment, and services, and environmental pollution.  


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