FSA assessment 'full of holes'

Meat leaders have hit out at the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) latest update on its assessment of the impact of its proposals to increase charges for official controls on meat, describing it as “full of holes”.

The FSA’s update shows that the increased costs to industry in 2014/15 would be £17.93m, which it points out is lower than the current costs to the taxpayer of £31.2m. It said the difference in the costs industry would have to pay were down to planned efficiencies in the delivery of official controls, the removal of pension deficit costs and the support to be provided to low-throughput businesses by a tiered reduction from the full cost.

However, Norman Bagley has hit back, and claimed: “The impact assessment is full of holes and inaccuracies. At one point it says there is no longer a medium-sized sector, and then goes on to say that most plants facing increased costs will come from that sector. We will be taking this issue up with ministers.”

A spokesman for the FSA said: “The FSA recently published the updated assessment of the impact of our charging proposals. We sent it to industry stakeholders highlighting that this was in advance of the document being sent to ministers and the Regulatory Policy Committee. While this is not a formal consultation, we invited, and still welcome, any comments on factual detail.

Meanwhile, at an open board meeting this week, the FSA said the meat industry was best placed to take the lead in initiating and funding an alternative and promised “appropriate support”. It said that any alternative model would need to demonstrate that it could work in practice, provide the same — or preferably an increased — level of public health protection, and be of similar or lower cost than the current delivery system.

Jeff Rooker, FSA chair, said the agency was reaching out a hand to industry but it was “put up or shut up time”. He added: “We’re asking them to put up a lot of money, because they’ve got to fund this. But it’s a £6 billion industry. The costs we put on them are quite infinitesimal as a regulator. But if they think they can do that then it’s fine, because it’s a positive response to the Task Force. We’re broadly agreed we should proceed down this route that we should encourage them.

However, the FSA maintained that the focus was on shaping the future system of meat controls at a European level while reducing the cost associated with the current system.

Richard Griffiths, senior executive officer at the British Poultry Council, said that the proposal was much as industry had expected. He said “The FSA board had to do something to satisfy the comments made in the Macdonald Task Force Report, so asking the industry to come up with an alternative delivery model isn’t an unreasonable approach and probably a good option for us collectively in order to move the issue forward.”

However, he said there had not been any positive commitment to adopt alternative models that the industry may propose. He said: “I think they’ll consider it, but they have resisted the alternative delivery model for so long, I cannot see them picking it up easily now.”

Earlier this week, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) announced that it would be developing a more detailed proposal to be put to the FSA in a bid to enable the use of approved private sector accredited bodies to carry out inspections in consistently competent meat processing plants.