Meat manufacturers face closer scrutiny

Proposed new legislation could allow UK inspectors to enter meat manufacturing premises at "all reasonable hours" to check for the presence of animal borne diseases.

The legislation is being proposed to bring UK law into line with an EU-wide agreement to monitor and identify new and existing strains of zoonoses - diseases spread from animals to humans.

The UK's proposed Zoonoses (Monitoring) Regulations 2006 would allow Defra to carry out specific surveys on targeted species. The object of such

surveys would be to set targets for reducing the presence of such pathogens for each animal species. In October, Defra plans to carry out a zoonotic survey of the UK's turkeys and pigs.

In a statement, it said the powers to conduct mandatory inspections and sampling would also be used in emergency situations, such as when a deadly outbreak occurs in the food chain.

Meat processing plants and primary meat producers would incur minor costs under the monitoring programme and the survey work would not oblige operators or land owners to complete any paperwork, Defra said. Under the proposed law, an inspector would have to take samples and determine whether there was evidence of antimicrobial resistance in any zoonoses found at the premises. If a zoonosis or zoonotic agent is detected in one of the samples, inspectors will not have the right to impose controls or measures that 'might affect the work or activities that can be conducted on the premises,' according to the draft legislation.

Maurice McCartney, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said: "There is a huge number of organisations with a statutory right to enter premises. However, this proposed power appears to be intended as an additional safeguard to protect public health. Food safety and consumer confidence are paramount and a proper consideration of the proposal will help Defra develop pragmatic and proportionate measures on zoonotic diseases."

A spokesman for Defra said implementing the EU directive would "strengthen current monitoring systems" designed to identify new and existing strains of zoonoses. In the draft regulations it said current legislation could not continue to meet the "enhanced monitoring requirements" of the new zoonoses directive or enforce the forthcoming surveys in turkeys and pigs.

A public consultation on the proposed legislation runs until 27 October and it is expected that the draft regulations will become law late in 2006.