FSA under fire over abattoir radio programme

The Association for Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) has accused the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of “scaremongering” in a recent BBC radio programme.

The BBC Radio 4 programme, Inside the Abattoir, which was aired on 17 June, raised concerns over animal welfare, food fraud and human health in Britain’s abattoirs. Alongside Andrew Rhodes, chief operating officer at the FSA, the programme interviewed abattoirs owners as well as representatives from an animal welfare charity, the Halal Food Authority and the British Veterinary Association.

The programme focused heavily on meat inspections, bringing meat safety cases – such as the case brought against the abattoir, H R Jasper and Sons – under the spotlight. Rhodes referred to one case where a slaughterhouse had left the spleen of a sheep in the carcase, which is regarded as Specified Risk Materal (SRM), seen to pose a high risk of carrying disease.

However, AIMS has criticised Rhodes of exaggerating the risk of diseased sheep tissue entering the food chain. Peter Hewson, spokesperson for AIMS, said: “The FSA spokesperson suggested this posed a real risk to public health. That was different to what the FSA told the court, when it said there was no significant risk; a statement that resulted in the very modest fines that were handed down.”

Referring to the case mentioned Hewson said:“In fact the offence, if one was committed, was purely technical. Sheep spleen, although SRM, does not pose a BSE risk. No naturally occurring case of BSE has ever been found in sheep, although six million have been tested. In addition, the case revolved around spleens that had not been left in carcases due to the operator’s neglect, but because they had all become firmly attached to the sheep carcase due to peritonitis.”

Hewson added: “The presenter had the excuse that he wanted to make good radio; Animal Aid had the excuse that they want to ban all meat eating; and the meat inspectors had the excuse that they want to preserve their jobs, even if what they do actually increases the risk to public health. The FSA, however, the one body that is supposedly committed to science and risk-based controls, had no excuse.”

The FSA refutted the claims made by AIMS: “One of the FSA’s key responsibilities is to enforce the BSE regulations. We make no apologies for taking action against any company that fails to meet the standards which underpin this strict and successful system of controls. In this case we identified breaches of those regulations and the court supported our view. Failing to carry out Specified Risk Material controls can put the reputation of the whole industry at risk, so it is disappointing that AIMS should take such a view, which is at odds with the position they have taken publically in the recent past,” a spokesperson for the FSA told Meatinfo.

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