You are right to draw attention to the part played by the FSA and sections of the media in promoting health scares. The media at least have the excuse as businesses that bad news sells the product. But scaremongering by a government agency is a different matter. For the FSA to issue warnings about some obscure and theoretical risk, and then say "don't worry about it" is grossly irresponsible.

There is a steady flow of different products that get the scare treatment. Chocolate is a recent farcical example and it will damage the company involved. But people are learning to treat the whole thing as a joke and targeted industries recover once the non-story dies down.

Unfortunately for the meat industry, health scares are more than occasional irritations. As you point out in your Comment column, no sooner does one disastrous government health scare subside then another looms on the horizon. This time it is an obscure theory about mutton - needless to say without any evidence of risk to health.

There have been years of health scares (i.e. panic about epidemics that never happen) in the industry. Why should this be so after continuous and often unnecessary increases in veterinary controls and hygiene legislation? Certainly it is not a health matter as even the FSA are beginning to admit.

And yet the pressure never lets up. Only this month the FSA has launched another survey "to gather information on the type and amount of bacteria present on the surface of raw red meat on sale in the UK". No odds are being offered on the outcome of this exercise.

And for some the burden of paperwork and extra form filling is nearing breaking point as the realities of HACCP and slaughter-

house approval become clear.

What I find interesting in the light of all this is the general air of optimism in the trade, at least reflected in your columns. There is indeed great work going on as companies meet the challenges of a new century and trade opportunities open up.

Am I alone in worrying about the future of an industry faced with an adversary like the FSA? One which loses no opportunity to spread bad news about our product and commands an ever-growing army of officials.

Ten years ago these officials closed down scores of abattoirs with the advent of single market rules; and despite being in charge ever since, with their constant nagging about "improvement", now look set to refuse approvals and close another batch of abattoirs.

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