HACCP controls could be relaxed by Europe

Moves by the European Union to relax some food hygiene regulations governing small businesses have provoked a mixed reaction from the UK meat trade.

The EU has been considering exempting small businesses from the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) regulations, mainly those selling food directly to the consumer, which have a turnover of less than £1.35m. The European Parliament voted in June to give national authorities the leeway to decide whether "micro-enterprises" should be exempt, but argued this should be based on hygiene considerations, not just size.

The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders (NFMFT) is supporting EU proposals to exempt small businesses, including butchers' shops that employ fewer than 10 people, from the HACCP system. But the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association (SFMTA) wants to keep the provisions intact.

Douglas Scott, SFMTA chief executive, told MTJ that it was a "no-brainer". He said butchers were the first to have HACCP incorporated into their licensing requirements in 2000 and would not want to be exempted. He added: "They grasped the nettle and now they have taken the sting out of it and are working well with it." He argued that the regulations should continue to apply, because risks to hygiene were no less in small businesses than in large ones. He said: "We are acutely aware of the damage that bad operators can have on the whole sector. If standards are kept high, then that is less likely to happen."

A report from a recent meeting of the NFMFT executive council emphasised that the EU believed food hygiene could be ensured by correct implementation of the food hygiene requirements laid down in Regulation (EC) 852/2004 "without having recourse to the HACCP system".

NFMFT technical manager Richard Stevenson said that although many butchers supported HACCP, the federation did not like "the excessive paperwork that goes with it".

He added that the federation was aligning itself with the rest of Europe's butchers in supporting the EU amendment, "provided that correct food hygiene standards remain to the level of the HACCP requirements".