Unison warns against changes to inspection laws

Trade union Unison fears possible changes in European law will jeopardise independent meat inspections for both white and red meat, putting food standards at risk. 

It believes the EC is set to reject recommendations from the MEP Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee of the European Parliament to keep independence and wholesomeness in regulations 882/2004, later this year.

Unison national officer for Food Standards Agency, Paul Bell, said: “They’re proposing to remove independence and wholesomeness – it would then be up to slaughterhouses to determine whether it is appropriate quality and safe. If there’s a rogue element it could undermine the rest of the market.”

EU law currently allows officially trained slaughterhouse staff – poultry inspection assistants – to carry out inspections, but only if they have the necessary qualifications required by EU legislation, according to the union.

The report - Unison’s analysis of the European Commission, Food and Veterinary Office audits of poultry slaughterhouses from 2010 to 2014 - examined 72 audits in countries including Italy, France, Romania and Estonia, and said some were already incapable of ensuring that meat was free from faeces, diseases, abscesses and septicaemia.

The audits revealed that instead of conducting the inspections themselves, some vets used slaughterhouse staff who had not received proper supervision or training.

The British Poultry Council said change in the inspection of poultry meat was long overdue, and that it was keen for a fundamental review at European level.

Director of food policy, Richard Griffiths, said: “The Commission recognises that microbiological inspection is where future controls will be applied and we support this. There will always be a need for government involvement in the audit of meat production, but how this is applied needs to be science-based.

“We have an opportunity to create a fit-for-purpose system that recognises where the risks are. In the meantime, the use of poultry inspection assistants – whose training and professionalism is beyond reproach – can help mitigate the impact and inflated costs of an outdated system.”

However, the British Meat Processors Association accused the union of scare-mongering and deliberately confusing hygiene issues with quality issues. Said director Stephen Rossides: “The Commission’s proposal…is still under negotiation, but seems unlikely to change the basic features of the current regime of the continuing permanent presence of OVs in plants and MHIs working under their supervision.”

A spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency said it considered independent official controls were important for ensuring meat safety and maintaining consumer confidence. She added there was an opportunity to further strengthen controls: “We will make sure, through our negotiations, that any changes make meat safer for consumers.”

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