FSA abandons pilot body option on MHS

Food Standards bosses have ditched plans to run a private control body pilot alongside the transforming Meat Hygiene Service (MHS).

The Food Standards Agency board meeting, held in London yesterday, agreed not to pursue plans to run a control body and applauded the progress the MHS had made towards transforming itself into a leaner and more efficient organisation.

"The MHS has demonstrated its willingness to change and its capability and credibility to deliver," said Steve McGrath, MHS chief executive. "What we need now is a period of stability to deliver and we need trust and support."

He said the last year the MHS had faced a number of challenges from its stakeholders, with some for the changes, and some against. However, he said they now needed everyone to pull together: "We need all of our stakeholders to be facing in the same direction. As a management team we're excited about the future and building on the success we've had in the last year."

He said while some in the sector were trying to paint a negative picture, the reality was different: "There are over 134 positions that are no longer in the system now and people are seeing a difference at plant level."

John Spence, board member, said while he was initially worried about abandoning the pilot scheme, he had now changed his mind. "I think it's a question of trust. We have to have trust with Steve and his team to deliver, and to have something hanging over them doesn't demonstrate that trust."

However, the board was keen to see that the work done on the pilot body was not lost and should be incorporated into the ongoing transformation of the MHS.

The board was told that, so far, the MHS had managed to cut gross costs by £4.4m, net costs by £2.1m and the cost of processing livestock by 90p a unit.

Summing up, FSA chair Deirdre Hutton said: "The board has given its unequivocal support to the success so far of MHS transformation. The Agency recognises that if it is to move over time to charging full cost, it has a responsibility to ensure that those costs are as efficient as possible.

"We also talked today about the possibility of piloting a Control Body, but the Board felt that the costs of such a pilot body outweigh the benefits at this time.

"Getting the MHS to work with maximum efficiency is a vital stage one, and the MHS needs to maintain this momentum for change. In the longer term, we need to look to Europe to change legislation to provide a truly proportionate risk-based approach to official controls."

Tim Smith, FSA chief executive, added: "While the targets ahead are tough, we think we have the capabilities and resources to meet those. Progress is mainly on track if not slightly ahead of where we might be expected to be."

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