Please explain the 'cause for concern'

A four-page debate on full cost recovery in last week's MTJ (21 January) made for some interesting reading, although it seemed strange that of the seven participants, which included Tim Smith, chief executive of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), only one fresh red meat trade organisation was represented William Lloyd Williams for the small abattoirs association. Probably just as well for Mr Smith, as one or two other trade spokespeople might have given him a slightly tougher time!


Said Mr Smith: "The problem we've all got is that none of us in this room today think that what happens in meat inspection is risk-based and proportionate...." Truth at last, and no real progress can be made until we actually get to the bottom of what this statement means. Mr Smith tried to extricate himself from this unprepared show of honesty by adding; "If we do not need to do all the things we all agree are wasting time and energy, we can do other things with some of the costs." An amazing comment, although he tries to justify it by saying, "We'll report this month on 40 plants that are cause for concern and none of us can do anything about that......" What do you mean by "cause for concern", Mr Smith? Are there some abattoir operators doing something illegal or operating some kind of a racket? Are they sending out meat that hasn't been inspected or stamped? Are they breaking welfare rules? Or is this just another facile attempt to confuse people outside the industry of some petty misdemeanour? Mr Smith, this statement of accusation is very important in the context of this whole debate. It is vital that this question is answered.


However, these are the facts. The abattoir sector, scientifically proven and agreed by all, is over-regulated. This has led to an over-manning situation, so that money that does not need be spent goes directly from the Treasury to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is necessary to pay officials to do work that is not needed. Sound risk analyses confirm the FSA is spending money it needn't, so why ask industry for more?


Whichever way you look at the process of consultation and solution, the real problem lies with the FSA, and Mr Smith has confirmed this beyond any reasonable doubt. By hook or by crook, the FSA is going to carry on with its strategy of raising smokescreens (eg. "cause for concern"), blaming industry at every opportunity, and generally withholding details of its costings with the clear objective of charging industry for its excessive claims.


So let's be clear: the regulations are way over the top and shouldn't be costing these monies; and the FSA should be working to a budget that provides a meat inspection system that suits the industry's needs, not the bloated pension schemes of a modern-day bureaucracy.


Question. Have we got the guts to face a propaganda onslaught, being demeaned by officialdom, to cope with this and then have the nerve to take the fight to our opponents?


I believe we have to. To succeed you have to try.