UK union calls for EFSA control following meat inspection changes

Leading UK union, Unison, has called for stricter controls of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), after the body called for “deregulation” of meat inspection, saying panel members have conflicting interests.

Unison believes a move to visual-only inspection of pigs, which the European Parliament voted in favour of in October, will compromise the public’s health and safety. Unison has made the call after, it said, “doubts were cast over its [EFSA] independence” recently.

The union has also made claims of a “tangled network of links” between the EFSA and business interests, using a survey from the Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) to make the allegations.

CEO, which is a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge organisations such as EFSA, released a survey in October entitled ‘Unhappy Meal’. The survey revealed that almost 60% of the experts on the EFSA’s panels had direct or indirect links with industries regulated by the agency.

Unison’s national officer for meat inspectors Paul Bell said the CEO survey led him to have doubts about how decisions on the inspection regime were made. He asked that, in light of CEO information, the government should hold-off on their meat inspection decisions, “until tougher controls are made on EFSA”.

Robust circumstances

However, an EFSA spokeswoman told “In identifying potential conflicts of interest for EFSA experts, the CEO report assumed that experts should have no commercial ties related to any aspect of EFSA’s remit. As they themselves, acknowledge, this is the main factor explaining their results.

“EFSA applies a robust set of internal mechanisms and working processes to safeguard the independence of its scientific work. This includes a comprehensive framework to manage potential conflicts of interest as well as guidelines on how we select experts and collect and analyse data.”

Yet Bell still claimed there was no safe substitute for hands-on meat inspection. “Inspectors tell us that simply looking at a pig carcase will not deliver the high standards of protection of safety and quality that consumers have a right to expect,” he said.

“There is a real danger that ending physical inspection will lead to meat containing an abscess or tumour getting into the food chain. It will be minced into processed food like sausages and ham and customers will be none the wiser.”

He urged that consumers needed to know that decisions made about meat inspection were being made for their best interests “and it seems clear that this is now not the case”, he added.

The debate

Unison took issue with the plans to change inspection rules in spring this year, when it claimed the change would result in a relaxation of standards.

However, speaking to on 16 May about inspection changes, Food Standards Agency (FSA) director of operations Andrew Rhodes said Unison’s safety allegations were untrue. He said: “It’s categorically untrue and scaremongering to suggest that the new system will be putting people – or their sausages – at risk. If it did, we wouldn’t be doing it; it’s as simple as that.”

British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) director Stephen Rossides, also speaking in May, agreed with Rhodes and said: “The Commission’s proposals to modernise official inspections of pigs are based on an EFSA scientific opinion, and are a welcome step in the direction of a more appropriate and risk-based approach to meat inspection that addresses today’s food hazards, and so improves consumer protection. We look forward to future proposals to modernise inspections of cattle and sheep.”


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