The FSA said this was because of a lack of investment or poor standards of maintenance since their licence was issued in the 1990s.
This situation had developed despite the presence of, and enforcement by, the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) and DARD NI in the plants because maintenance had often been of a standard that provided only short term solutions, rather than dealing with fundamental structural problems, said the FSA. The full time presence of an official veterinary surgeon (OVS), as required by current EC meat hygiene legislation, had also led to a 'command and control culture' where some operators stepped back from taking full responsibility for food safety management and did only the minimum to comply, following repeated enforcement action being taken by the OVS.
The FSA had offered appraisal visits to plant operators that it thought would have difficulty in complying with the new Regulations to give them time to correct deficiencies.
Around 296 appraisal visits were carried out by 5 December (237 of the 271 programmed and 59 requested). Of the outstanding 34 programmed, four remain to be carried out in South-East England. Thirty had not taken up the offer for a variety of reasons including operator refusal.
Ninety seven of the 296 had major structural or layout deficiencies which would require three months to remedy, 105 plants had lesser structural or layout deficiencies and/or major deficiencies. Some plants had problems with their HACCP controls that could be rectified within three months, and 78 had minor deficiencies that could be resolved quickly.
The FSA said that it was not surprised by the large number of plants that needed to make significant improvements as these had been targeted for appraisal visits because they were expected to have problems.
It has decided in the light of this that further time will be available to rectify problems in 2006 for most plants as it estimates that it will take 12 to 18 months for vet meat hygiene advisers and DARD NI staff to assess all plants for approval.
This is allowed under EU Regulations that provide for plants to continue operating until the approval inspection is carried out.