Industry reacts to FSA charging proposals

Industry reacts to FSA charging proposals

Reactions to the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) decision to press ahead with full cost recovery have been mixed – with some relieved pension concessions have been made and others calling on the government to intervene.

The NFU said it believed the proposals would impact heavily on the competitiveness and sustainability of the red and white meat sectors, while the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) accused the FSA of merely “tinkering round the edges”.

However, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) and the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) both stated they were please by the FSA’s pledges to drive efficiencies.

Norman Bagley, of AIMS, said: “At its meeting the FSA board applied some brakes on its executive’s headlong dash for full cost recovery of meat inspection charges.

“In the discussion, although the board remained of the view that the FSA should not provide financial support to the industry, it was clearly not convinced that the FSA was delivering controls efficiently nor that the full cost was affordable for the industry. This change of heart came about as a direct result of the impact the industry made in its meetings with board members over the last two weeks.”

Stephen Rossides, director at the BMPA, said: “The FSA Board’s decisions on full cost recovery are pretty much what we expected. But the Board’s discussion showed that, though late in the day, it seems to have woken up to the strength of industry feeling on meat inspection charges, and the need for the FSA to operate more efficiently. The discussion also showed that the Board now recognises that the FSA must engage more meaningfully with the industry on meat inspection issues. Hopefully, this will move the agency in the direction of real partnership with industry. 

NFU livestock board chairman Alistair Mackintosh said: “The Richard Macdonald review into reducing regulations highlighted a numbers of ways in which the meat hygiene service can be changed, within current EU legalisation, and offer significant savings to industry. Allowing meat processors to source meat inspection services from accredited private-sector providers within a system managed by the competent authority is just one example. 

“It therefore makes no sense for the FSA board to progress down this route of full cost recovery without firstly giving due consideration to the recommendations made within the Macdonald report, and the calls from industry, to put in place a cost-effective and efficient inspection regime.

“The NFU has always believed that the FSA proposals have the potential to severely undermine the competitiveness of the British meat industry and we find it outrageous that we are being asked to pick up the costs of an outdated, disproportionate inspection regime, carried out by a high-cost, monopoly public service provider, the FSA.

“Since the FSA board is unwilling to see sense on this issue, we are calling on the Government to intervene and stop the current proposals. A comprehensive review of current meat hygiene controls, and the implementation of the Macdonald recommendations, must take place before we can even consider full cost recovery.”

Ian Anderson, SAMW executive manager, said: “The FSA continues to ride roughshod over those who oppose them. They have ignored the welter of opposition and failed to address the fundamental points made during the consultation. The only worthwhile concession they have made is to remove the pension liability contribution from the equation. Who knows whether they would have volunteered this had the SAMW not exposed the FSA pensions scandal in February. The FSA continues to tinker around the edges of the meat inspection/charges issue rather than the measures needed for radical reform. That is why the SAMW and the rest of the Scottish industry sent proposals for a Scottish meat inspection service to the Cabinet Secretary on the day he was re-appointed to his former post. We look forward to an early discussion with Mr Lochhead to take this forward.“

At its board meeting yesterday the FSA decided that:

• Full cost recovery should be introduced over a three-year period, beginning in April 2012.
• Consultation proposals should be amended to allow more small businesses to be included in the ‘low throughput’ category.
•   The FSA said this would provide support of £3.2m per year for about 570 establishments, as opposed to £1.4m for about 420 establishments as originally proposed.