Processors will have to foot the bill if they want to create an alternative model for meat inspection charging, the head of the Food Standards Agency has said.
Speaking at the AIMS annual conference in Nottingham recently, Lord Rooker admitted that full cost recovery will have a disproportionate impact on medium-sized abattoirs. However, he said he believed the current business model worked, and insisted that the FSA will not spend money on finding an alternative.
“We are not saying that there can’t be another model, but we are not going to spend our money on it,” he said. “If you think it can be done on another model, go and do some work on it and come up with a plan.” He estimated that the cost of developing an alternative model would be around £500,000 to £700,000.
With regards to moving towards a more risk-based system, Rooker accepted that there were higher-risk parts of the food supply chain that were not inspected by the FSA, but pointed out that the agency is constrained by EU regulations and “required by law to be in a plant 24/7”.
He said the European Commission is investigating the possibility of moving towards a more risk-based system and urged AIMs members to lobby their local MEPs on the issue. “This won’t be something we can lead the charge on,” he added. “It will require trade pressure.”
AIMS director Norman Bagley accepted Lord Rooker’s challenge to come up with a better business model, although he did question whether it would cost anywhere near as much as half a million pounds. He asked Lord Rooker for assurance that issues surrounding terms and conditions of official veterinarians (OVs) would be sorted out before full cost recovery arrives. In response, Rooker assured delegates that the FSA was working hard to resolve these issues and improve efficiencies. He added: “We are committed to having our own books checked so people know exactly what the costs are.”
Stephen Rossides, director at the British Meat Processors Association, said: “The FSA have quoted these kinds of figures as the cost of developing an alternative model for the delivery of meat inspections, but we do not know their basis.
“In developing a case for an alternative approach, the BMPA recognises that there may be a need for outside specialist expertise, but at this stage, we are not in a position to assess the requirement or its cost.
“We trust that the FSA’s offer of ‘appropriate support’ to industry in building a case for an alternative approach is a genuine one. The FSA’s estimate of what this work might cost must not become some kind of yardstick for its assessment or acceptance of an industry case.”