It is a document that contains nearly 50,000 words, runs to 142 pages and has been sent to almost 100 different stakeholder groups and over 1,000 businesses. But even though, at first glance, it might not be top of your reading list, due to its length and apparent complexity, it is an important document and one that has the potential to have a radical and far-reaching effect on the UK meat industry. In fact, it is a must-read for anybody with a stake in our business and writing it off as a useful door-stop would be a mistake. If you have not realised it yet, this is the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) consultation on meat charges.
Launched in December last year, it is a consultation on the ‘Proposed changes to the charging arrangements and charging levels for official meat controls carried out in Great Britain’, to give it its full title. Consultations are being held in parallel across the four nations of the UK. But what does it really contain, what should industry be focusing on and, perhaps most importantly, how should industry respond?
Before getting into the details of the proposals, it is worth being reminded of the context of the consultation. As the FSA’s key priority is public health, nothing in the consultation should have an adverse affect on this. If you disagree, then tell the FSA.
Another aspect to the consultation is how the FSA has taken account of the need to comply with European minimum charge rates in devising its proposals. Current regulations stipulate that the pound/euro exchange rate is set each September and is then applied to UK charge rates at the start of the following calendar year. Therefore, due to the ongoing weakness of sterling, this has led to an automatic increase in a number of charging rates from the start of 2009, to ensure that UK is compliant with EU Law.
In the consultation itself, there are a number of main proposals, each of which should be seen as separate measures and which, subject to the outcome of the consultation, can be implemented separately or together.
So what are the
1. Moving to time-based charging
Firstly, the consultation suggests a new method of calculating charges for meat hygiene controls. This would replace throughput calculations that apply to most businesses at present, with a time-based system of controls for all businesses. The FSA considers that this will encourage a greater commercial discipline in plants in the use of official controls and will drive efficiencies for both regulator and industry alike.
2. Increasing the charging rate
The next main proposal is an increase in the charging rates: the three options are 4%, 6% or 9% (all inclusive of inflation). The FSA’s preference is for the latter option of 9%, as this, with the additional revenue from the increases to minimum charge rates mentioned above, would recover an additional £3m, which is in line with the FSA’s budgetary needs. The 9% option will raise industry’s contribution to £28m out of the estimated overall cost of controls of £54m – the shortfall being made up by the taxpayer.
3. Introducing SRM charging
Finally, a new charge is being suggested that will be levied to recover approximately 5% of the total cost of Specified Risk Material (SRM) official controls, including the cost of additional BSE checks.
Other aspects of the consultation include:
l Requiring businesses to declare their intended working hours and practices for which official controls would need to be provided and charged. This would allow the MHS to assess the resources it will need to deploy at businesses to carry out official controls. It will be an important part of the time-based charging process, as it will help to keep working patterns predictable, which should ultimately help drive greater efficiency, and reduced cost, in the delivery of official controls.
l Charging a fee of £400 for businesses to initiate a review of the MHS’ assessment for the resources required to carry out official controls. If the review upheld the business’ case that the initial assessment was inaccurate, the £400 fee would be repaid.
l The FSA is also seeking views on the introduction of Business Agreements between the MHS and businesses to ensure there is a more collaborative approach to the needs of both the regulator and the industry.
l Finally, the FSA is proposing some detailed changes to the way in which deductions are made to charges otherwise payable, to reflect the costs borne by some poultry slaughterhouses in employing plant inspection staff to help carry out official controls.
This broadly covers the key aspects of the consultation and indicates the real breadth of topics covered in the document.
So for industry, one of the most important considerations in reaching a view on the consultation is quite simply, ‘How will it affect my business?’ One way the MHS is helping businesses is by providing, on request, an estimate of your charges from 29 June 2009. Operators can request this service directly from the MHS by emailing the organisation on
The deadline for responses to the consultation is 25 March 2009. The FSA website carries the full consultation and a form to summarise your comments. You will find the consultation at: http://tinyurl.com/dbq3lq.
So, that’s it for your quick guide to the FSA consultation. Hopefully, this has shed some light on the key proposals and has emphasised that if one thing is essential to ensure the consultation is an effective process, it is your response.
If you want to get even more involved in the debate, then why not register for the Big Debate, hosted by Meat Trades Journal on Friday, 13 February, at the Ardencote Manor Hotel, Warwick, where Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA, will be appearing on a panel of speakers to discuss the consultation. To attend the debate contact Helen Law on 01293 846587 or email her on Helen.Law@william-reed.co.uk.