The Meat Hygiene Service moves to reduce costs
1. It is estimated by the Meat Hygiene Service that “costs will realistically be reduced by £75m by 2011 / 2012, a reduction of £16m (18%).” This significant decrease in costs leaves small operators in the trade dissatisfied. Warnings that the MHS cost plans “will wipe out small operators” are calling for attention. The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) estimates that a small contract slaughter plant could still see charges soar from £10k to £77.5k.
2. “We will do what we can do to protect the most vulnerable businesses to dramatically reduce overheads as the industry moves towards full cost recovery,” said Richard Billings, the MHS Communications Manager, “but the fact remains that, at the moment, the entire meat industry is being subsidized by the taxpayer and it is Food Standards Agency (FSA) policy that this should stop.”
3. Defending its attempts to implement full cost recovery for its services, it announced 2 months ago targets for cost reduction, on the number of business improvements on efficiency, “in preparation for full cost recovery, MHS officials insisted that the inspection body “is doing everything it can to dramatically reduce overheads as the industry moves towards full cost reduction.” A discussion to include “a thorough examination of the cost effectiveness of the new service” was held at the Board meeting of the FSA held in London on 13 February (Meat Trades Journal, 15 February 2008).
4. MHS officials insist that the inspection body is doing everything it can to dramatically reduce overheads as the industry moves towards full cost recovery. And this compliance is obvious to any attendee at open meetings of the FSA’s Board or viewers of the Board’s webcasts. “These meetings are dominated by delving into the entrails of the squalid live/deadstock industry rather than raising our endeavors to meet the unequivocal and authoritative challenges to lower production and consumption of meat and dairy,” to quote an interjection by a VEGA spokesman.
5. The FSA’s servile attempts at making the slaughter of sheep with wool and hooves attached to avail the market for smokies (the wool being singed) and the uncritical assessments of organics, sales of “local” produce, the workings of markets and auctions, transportation, and movements of livestock direct from farm to killing factory fail the animals doomed for slaughter for their flesh. VEGA is trying to alert all farmers despatching their animals “down the road” to their responsibilities, which regulations due in 2010 for all of Europe will require tighter controls on methods of slaughter and labelling of meat. VEGA is already seeking appropriate declarations from retailers suggesting some restraint on the claims and certification of meat sold at a premium with implied (but not easily proven, we are finding) concerns for the animals’ welfare as they go to their sacrifice at the alters of human desired for their flesh, entrails, and blood. The yield from the “5th quarter” is unlikely now to meet the costs of slaughter and rigorous inspection
6. Norman Bagley, Director of AIMS, says that “it is only now that the true scale of the potential horror of full cost recovery is becoming clear. Increases of this scale will drive a coach and horses through any government policy of a sustainable industry. If the FSA pursues the route to full cost recovery before we have extracted the last ounce of cost-cutting out of the current bloated system, it will destroy a significant portion of the industry at a stroke.” He asserts: “The £75m budget that the MHS has come up with is totally unacceptable and needs to be driven down far further before a meaningful discussion on long-term charges can be entertained. This will only be achieved by running a private pilot control body, in competition with the MHS, so we know exactly how much an efficient inspection service can be delivered for.”
7. On the other hand, Stuart Roberts, Director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), takes a different view. He says: “The MHS has said that this is only the first phase and that there are more cuts that could be made. If the MHS were to say that there would only be an 18% cut, I would be concerned, but I am confident that, by working together, we can save a lot more.”
8. The FSA faces more decisions that are going to test its resolve to relive the taxpayer of expenses and compensations that the live/deadstock industry has been unaccustomed to discharge itself; still less, has it been ready or able to render repair of the ravages to health and environment that its malpractices have perpetrated.
9. We are expecting shortly results of an inquiry into the E. coli outbreak that left a five year old boy dead. The public inquiry is being led by Professor Hugh Pennington, a microbiologist who chaired the investigation into the 1996 outbreak of E. coli in Lanarkshire. The latest inquiry was set up by the Welsh Assembly. Prof Pennington will have 36,000 pages of evidence to examine and he will hear testimony by environmental health officers (EHOs) who were responsible for inspecting the premises of butcher William Tudor, who was jailed last year for supplying contaminated meat. The outbreak affected 44 schools, all of which were supplied by Mr Tudor, who has not been expected to give evidence; however, Susan Mills, mother of Mason Jones, who died, has testified.
10. William Tudor, from Crowbridge, South Wales, was jailed last September for 12 months. He had admitted 6 counts of placing unsafe food on the market and one count of failing, as a proprietor of a business, to protect food against the risk of contamination. Professor Pennington said that conclusion of the criminal proceedings linked to the outbreak freed the inquiry to complete its task, which will entail investigation of the source of the outbreak, inspection of food businesses, procurement of school meals, and management of the affair.
11. The FSA is also tied up in a 3-way tangle with European veterinary inspectors, British supervisors, and the owner of Bowland Dairy, which might be regarded as a salvage merchant for liquid milks rejected as unfit for human consumption and intermediate milks that, it is alleged, may enter the food chain, eg as cheeses, after processing. Some expensive litigation seems likely to develop. We hope to comment further.