Inspection charges protest

The red meat, poultry and processing industries have joined forces to flatly reject proposed increased inspection charges due to come into force in March.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has already been told that some plants face increases in costs of nearly 250% over the next four years, although the standard increase proposed is 8%.

"We are opposed to increases to the charging regime at a time when the current MHS transformation programme is yet to deliver the overall cost reduction demanded by the FSA board," said a letter, jointly signed by the British Meat Processors Association, British Poultry Council, Association of Independent Meat Suppliers and Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers. "An 8% increase in costs on the industry is unacceptable before the process is complete."

The four bodies were responding to a consultation over the proposed increases. The industry is under enormous financial pressure, due to current cereal and fuel prices and the consequences of foot-and-mouth, bluetongue, and avian influenza outbreaks, the letter stated. "The foot-and-mouth outbreak alone has cost the UK meat processing sector in excess of £16m; this is even more irritating as it was due to government failings in the first place."

The four bodies went on to say that any one of the current charging proposals is damaging, but the cumulative effect magnifies the problem enormously. It calls for an impact assessment of all the charges proposed.

These charges and the cost-sharing proposals considered by the FSA last July "...reflect entirely our concerns, which should not be further exaggerated by this premature proposal", added the letter.

The FSA was told that, by 2011, total extra costs to industry of its own and Defra's proposals would be about £27m per year, representing more than a doubling of the £23.4m charges paid to the MHS by industry in 2006/07. The combined effect on red meat slaughterhouses of the proposed increase in hygiene charges, the introduction of specified risk material (SRM) and Defra charges and the transfer of BSE testing costs would raise average costs per plant from £64,000 now to £137,000 in 2011, an increase of 114%. Plants processing over-30-month (OTM) cattle for human consumption would experience even larger increases of up to 248% by 2011. The average cost borne by OTM plants for hygiene and SRM controls, as well as BSE testing, would jump from the current £130,000 to £450,000 in 2011.

Average charges in poultry slaughterhouses would increase from the present £29,000 to £53,000 in 2011, a 79% increase.

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