Report challenges BSE checks

A new project report that looks at how meat hygiene inspection costs can be slashed says that Defra and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have a big part to play in their reduction.

It recommends that Defra and the FSA look at how the checks that are considered excessive, in the light of a significant fall in BSE incidences, can be reduced. "The duplicate checks were set back in 1996, so we could get the beef ban lifted," said Kenneth Clarke, veterinary adviser for the FSA and a member of the project team that visited 19 slaughterhouses. "The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) is just doing what it has been told to do, so no blame can be apportioned to it."

Clarke added that the TSE and SRM controls and checks need to be challenged and the system dismantled. "It is recognised that there is confusion in this area and it needs sorting out."

The report also suggested that the government take more of a risk-based approach in this area, as happens in Northern Ireland.

British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) director Stuart Roberts, also believes it is vital that Defra and the FSA come up with an action plan to follow up on the recommendations in the tripartite Optimisation Project report. "Defra and the FSA have to play their part in removing the inefficiencies they have imposed on the current regime," he said.

The report acknowledges that meat plants also have a part to play in inspection cost reduction. "If plants want the MHS to provide a more cost-effective service, then they are going have to be prepared to make changes themselves in consultation and discussion with the MHS," explained Clarke.

To help plants achieve this, it has been proposed that they enter into Business Agreements with the MHS. Roberts is an advocate of these, due to the process involved in getting them written. "It gives you a chance to have a detailed discussion about how and where you can be more efficient," he said. "For the first time industry and the MHS can discuss what the staffing levels should be and whether the veterinary inspector comes at the end of the day to do the ante-mortem inspection for the next day's animals in lairage and meat inspection of the animals that are killed that day."

The MHS also supports the proposed Business Agreements. "One of the key things to come out of the Optimisation Project is that it gives us the key to move forward with the industry. We will look at FBOs individually, as we do not believe one size fits all," said Jane Downes, veterinary and technical adviser for the MHS.

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