Inspection overhaul call

UK meat processors are calling for meat inspection services to be overhauled and contracted out.

The call has been sparked by proposed charges set out by the Meat Hygiene Services (MHS) board in its recent consultation with the sector.

The bodies behind the move - the BMPA, AIMS, British Poultry Council, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers and Northern Ireland Meat Processors - are all believed to have called for this as the MHS consultation process comes to an end this month.

An industry source said the processors were unhappy with the proposals put forward by the MHS and were seeking a different way forward. "We are not happy with the charges as the MHS is proposing full cost delivery and we cannot afford to underwrite meat inspection costs."

It is believed a small working group of processors proposed meeting John Harwood, the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency on 14 August, with their suggestions of separating enforcement and delivery to improve effectiveness.

"The current structural relationship between the Agency and MHS works against the effective management and future development of meat inspection, both on enforcement and delivery," it wrote in a document to Harwood.

Instead the processors want the FSA to end its current monopoly arrangement with the MHS.

They called on the FSA to approve commercial businesses as individual service providers and to put meat plants on a food business operator status. In addition, it said, there should be a governing board made of stakeholders, including industry, to oversee the framework.

The working group also want individual plants to be able to negotiate charges as well as appoint and pay a service provider.

"The new charging arrangement should take us closer to actual cost. This is a change to the current MacLean arrangements. Government support for smaller and remote plants may need to be delivered through a different mechanism," the letter said.

EU legislation allows for this approach and a model based on the principles is in operation in Holland, it added.