Scots tackle government on MHS costs

Meat wholesale leaders have warned the Scottish government that meat inspection costs could triple by 2011, placing all parts of the meat chain under severe pressure.

The warning was given during a meeting earlier this week between the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) and Shona Robison, minister for public health, who is responsible for meat hygiene in Scotland, as well as the Food Standards Agency in Scotland.

The SAMW team, led by president Allan Jess, told the minister that a recent survey of eight Scottish meat plants revealed a weekly meat inspection cost (for the eight plants together) of £38,000.

Under plans to move the funding of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) on to a full-cost recovery basis, that cost could rise to £104,000 a week by 2011, the SAMW claimed.

"That's an unacceptable and unsustainable increase," said Jess. "Our message to the minister, therefore, was that if she wanted Scotland to continue having a meat industry of any true significance, then such cost increases would need to be significantly reduced.

"The minister assured us that she 'recognised' the cost and product supply pressures we're working under at present and that she 'valued' our member businesses as essential to the future viability of the Scottish meat industry. She also said that she would hold the MHS and FSA Scotland to account for any future increases."

The SAMW delegation also pointed out that, while they fully supported the application of high hygiene standards to meat production and processing, the cost of running the MHS in recent years had ballooned out of all control.

"The cost of running the MHS, across the whole of Britain, was £43m in 1997," said Jess. "By 2000, that figure had increased to £67m, climbing again to £92m by the end of last year. This is a ridiculous rate of increase."

While acknowledging that the MHS is currently undergoing a 'transformation' process, in which costs are supposed to be reduced, Jess said that SAMW member companies were still facing a tripling of meat inspection costs over the next three years.

"We also told the minister that transformation was only 'scratching the surface' at present and that a more fundamental approach is required to look deeper for economies, particularly on non-inspection activities," he said.

"We're already faced with an 8% increase in costs this year, due to be followed by a 12.5% increase in 2009 and a further 15% hike in 2010. This trend simply isn't sustainable for an industry that is already struggling to source sufficient stock to enable processing plants to operate on a cost-effective basis."

SAMW said the minister pledged that her officials would carry out a detailed examination of all planned meat inspection cost increases, assessing both short- and long-term implications of such increases for the Scottish meat chain. SAMW, in return, agreed to work closely with FSA Scotland to seek a lasting solution to current cost and operational concerns.

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