IS ANYBODY LISTENING?

There is a lot of focus on restrictions in the industry at the moment, and the fractious relationship between meat inspectors and the industry was amply illustrated at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers conference recently.

While a clearly nervous Jason Aldiss, of veterinary meat hygiene practice Eville & Jones, faced down a potentially hostile audience of processors and suppliers, I found myself sat next to a former meat inspector who had jumped the fence to work as a technical manager in a meat plant.

His reason for switching boiled down to the fact he was fed up of being treated like a pariah by other staff. "People would turn on their heel and walk away from me if they saw me walking down a corridor," he said.

The depth of feeling is clearly strong on both sides of the divide. At the end of the day, relationships between plant staff and inspectors aside, the basic issue boils down to the fact that while the risk has reduced, regulation remains the same, if not worse.

Patrick Wall, chair of the European Food Safety Authority, illustrated the point when describing how scares in the 1990s had led to an "epidemic" of food standards agencies, all of which are now looking for something to do, something of a scary thought - safety agencies with time on their hands is not a comfortable thought.

The industry has struggled and worked hard to ensure it is at the forefront of food safety.

Having survived many a crisis in recent years, the last thing anyone in the meat sector wants is another scare. They have taken huge strides forward to deal with this, all they are asking is that government and the regulators recognise that. It remains to be seen whether anyone is actually listening.

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