Industry defends hygiene

Industry leaders have come out in support of meat hygiene inspection standards, after a damming undercover BBC documentary highlighted poor practice in three Welsh abattoirs.

In a special edition of the BBC's Week In Week Out, an undercover journalist - posing as a prospective veterinary student - filmed an MHS inspector trimming faeces off a carcase and stamping other contaminated carcases as safe for human consumption.

MHS veterinary and technical director Jane Downes said: "Moving forward, the MHS will be communicating with food business operators and MHS staff to highlight best practice - this includes addressing the issue of trimming of carcases. The MHS is keen to re-affirm its support for its staff and recognises that they operate in what can often be a challenging environment."

Although no evidence was found to suggest contaminated meat made it on to the supermarket shelves, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's have launched their own investigations into the claims, while Somerfield has suspended orders from the abattoirs involved.

A spokesman for Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) said: "We in Britain have one of the most tightly regulated meat industries in the world. The Meat Hygiene Service has a legal responsibility to carry out inspections and rigorously enforce the rules at abattoirs.

"As an executive agency of the Food Standards Agency, the MHS plays a vital role in the protection of public health and animal welfare at approved meat plants throughout Britain. If a food business operator fails to produce safe meat, it is the responsibility of the MHS to take appropriate enforcement action in accordance with the relevant legislation."

Professor Hugh Pennington, who is chairing the public inquiry into the South Wales E.coli outbreak in 2005, called for an inquiry into the MHS inspection system in the documentary. However, Norman Bagley, policy director at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, told the BBC that the plants were isolated cases.

Bagley said: "This is a survey of three plants but UNISON is suggesting that it is something which is elsewhere. All I can say is that, on regularly visiting 135 plants which is significantly over 50% of the plants in England and Wales, I have found the inspector teams and the plant operators working closely together and I have not come across these problems."