Meat industry concerned over small business inspection charge

The European Parliament has voted to delete an exemption which currently saves small meat businesses millions of pounds each year.

Despite a letter to the environment secretary Owen Paterson from the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders’ (NFMFT) John Mettrick, urging him to battle against the European proposal, charges may now be introduced, which Mettrick said “will discriminate disproportionately against smaller businesses, damaging their viability and growth prospects”.

Small food businesses, such as slaughterhouses and butcher’s shops, are at risk after a committee of the European Parliament passed the recommendation which will take away an exemption that currently releases them from paying charges related to inspection.

In his letter, Mettrick said he had “genuine concerns about the impact of charging on small businesses”, which he believes act as an engine of the economic recovery, and are “supporting the rural economy, as well as enhancing animal welfare.”

An amendment has been passed which will allow member states’ governments to set their own charging policies. It will now be up to the UK government to decide whether they will pay.

However, the NFMFT fears that future UK governments will no longer exclude small businesses from the payments.

Roger Kelsey, chief executive of the NFMFT, said: “Left up to national government, there’s a threat that they will recover the costs from small businesses – not only processors but retail and butcher’s shops.

“The way it seems to be going, the indication is that, if left to member states, governments will look to all sectors of the industry to pay for inspectors. We think whoever wins the next election will try to reduce the deficit and we will be a target.”

The NFMFT’s technical manager Richard Stevenson added that the charges could be extremely damaging. He said: “For lots of these charges, big businesses pay far less pro rata. We pay far far more when compared with turnover.”

Norman Bagley, policy director at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), was less pessimistic. He said: “Although the parliament has voted this down, far more importantly they have restricted what can be charged, which is the cost of the inspector and consumables, but no extra costs.

“If this comes into place, it chimes very much with our view that many of the current overhead charges are illegal.”

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