Meat industry critical of Food Standards Agency plan

Meat processing leaders have hit out at the Food Standards Agency's (FSA's) plans to remove the right of non-compliant firms to operate pending the outcome of appeals.

The FSA has announced a consultation on the idea, citing the need to comply with EU regulations and the need to protect public health. However, those claims have been rubbished by Norman Bagley, policy director with the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers.

He said: "The proposed change is not being driven by public health concerns. FSA officials are permanently present in slaughterhouses, inspecting every carcase, and already have a range of measures available to them to protect public health, including withdrawing the health mark and serving an Emergency Prohibition Notice.

"Nor is it being driven by EU legislation. That is silent on whether operations can continue pending an appeal, but is very clear that there must be a right of appeal."

He said the decision to stop a plant operating would end any need for an appeal in the first place: "In the board discussion, officials said that operators would continue to have the right to an 'unfettered' appeal. That is simply not the case. Only one visit by an experienced official is now made to a meat premises before the decision is taken to withdraw its approval. If, following that decision, the premises has to stop operating, it will, for financial reasons, cease trading for good; any right to appeal will be purely illusionary."

Bagley claimed the real reason the change was being sought is down to the length of time appeals have taken to get to court: "That has mostly been due to the FSA's own lawyers arguing that the courts should not take into account any improvements an operator has made since his approval was withdrawn. The courts have now rejected that notion most appeals are never heard, because operators carry out the improvements needed and the FSA restores the approval."

A spokesperson for the FSA said: "EU legislation does not provide a right for food business operators (that are non-compliant with feed/food law) to continue operating pending the outcome of an appeal. Refusal or withdrawal of approval is used only as a last resort when serious deficiencies remain despite a lengthy prior process of enforcement actions by the Official Veterinarian working with the operator. So the affected businesses are inherently higher-risk in public health terms."

Stakeholders are encouraged to express their views on the proposal by responding to the consultation. A summary of all responses, as well as the FSA's evaluation, will be published on the FSA website after the consultation closes.

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