VEGA News Item

Subsidies to the meat industry to be cut - 23/07/2008
Reductions of current subsidies to the meat industry have been agreed by the Food Standards Agency
Reductions of current subsidies to the meat industry have been agreed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA); they would take the form of proposed changes to the current charging regime of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), which currently regulates the UK’s meat industry. The Board’s recommendations to Ministers comprise public consultation on the following proposals:

• Introduction of time-based charging for MHS services, which would replace the current charging arrangements (where most meat plant operators are charged a flat rate based on throughput).
• Reduction of current subsidies, which would result in hygiene charges paid by meat plant operators increasing by 12% (inclusive of inflation) by 2009/2010.
• Introduction of new charges for controls on the removal of Specified Risk Material (SRM) from 2009/2010. In the first year of charging this will recover 5% of the costs of these controls (approximately £0.5m).

If Ministers agree, a full public consultation will be carried out in September. Introducing the FSA’s important decision the Chief Executive, Tim Smith, describes it as an “opportunity to make improvements to the inspection regime, and maintain standards of public health and animal welfare in the business for many years to come.”

After “long and hard” thinking about the proposals for increased charging, Tim Smith sees general agreement that the level of subsidy from Government to the industry has been “too high in recent years and the changes we are proposing should ensure that the system will become fairer for both the industry and the taxpayer. The MHS is making huge strides on its own cost reduction plan. Its five regional offices are in the process of being closed and the gross cost of operations will have fallen by £14.4m by 2009/2010.” While the proposed increases will reduce the subsidy to the industry in Great Britain from £28m to £25m, the MHS’s overall plan is to reduce operating costs of £91m to £74m by 2012/13.

Tim Smith commends a working arrangement with “much greater commercial discipline” and with a good case to put to the EC, and he indicates “continuing support for the smallest operators.”

The proposed recommendations should apply to regulations on slaughterhouses supplying meat imported into the EU, and the restrictions and regulations begin to recognize the appalling aftermaths in human and non-human woe attributable to zoonotic diseases and culling, of which BSE, FMD, and other viral diseases such as avian flu, and tick-borne infections such as blue-tongue disease – and the associated massacres in culling programs – bear witness to the evils and the urgent need to cut down the intensification that has seized the meat and dairy industries in a vicious complicity of harm now unequivocally condemned on many counts by a diversity of commentators.

The FSA’s stipulations on openness on the results of hygiene and labelling inspections on food outlets and catering (food-service) must be applied to farms and slaughterhouses, for which the appraisals for hygiene should be complemented by scores for animal welfare (eg based on the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s Five Freedoms).

We wait as we post these words the significance of results expected today on a consignment of dairy calves exported to the Netherlands who may have spread TB to some veal units there or herds of cattle, although no regulations have been breached. TB has effectively been eradicated in the Netherlands, where Dutch farmers are now furious over the threat and are exacerbated further by the UK’s very recent decision to withhold a cull of badgers, which would appal British animal welfarists as well as many consumers of meat and dairy products. It could well be that the EC will seek to overrule the recent suspension of a cull of badgers, notwithstanding the British Government’s redoubled efforts and expenditure in the search for a feasible vaccination policy.

Now is the time for political representations and pressure by citizens in their purchases and discrimination on the food market to seize every opportunity to exert an effectual objective and consistent demonstration of our respect for the environment and other life entitled to a harmonious co-existence.  

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