MHS reform at critical point

A critical point in the reform of UK meat inspection is expected to be reached today

(Wednesday) as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is due to assess the progress being made towards the creation of the Transformed Meat Hygiene Service (TMHS).

"There are a number of key issues which we will be looking for FSA to address," said Allan Jess, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW), speaking ahead of the FSA Board meeting in London today, the agenda for which includes a detailed TMHS debate.

"First and foremost, of course, the new inspection process must deliver a top quality service in which producers, processors, retailers and consumers can have total confidence.

"Additional key areas for attention include the implementation timetable for TMHS, a review of current thinking on how the new service should be controlled and a thorough examination of the cost-effectiveness of the new service."

However, others in the meat sector are warning that the cost-cutting done so far is not effective enough and any shift to full-cost recovery could wipe out a sector of the industry.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), warns that a small contract slaughter plant could still see charges soar from £10k per annum to £77.5k.

Norman Bagley, AIMS director, said: "It is only now that the true scale of the potential horror of full cost recovery is becoming clear. Increases of this scale will drive a coach and horses through any government policy of a sustainable industry.

"If the FSA pursues the route to full cost recovery before we have extracted the last ounce of cost-cutting out of the current bloated system, it will destroy a significant portion of the industry at a stroke.

"The £75m budget that the MHS has come up with is totally unacceptable and needs to be driven down far further before a meaningful discussion on long-term charges can be entertained. This will only be achieved by running a private pilot control body, in competition with the MHS, so we know exactly how much an efficient inspection service can be delivered for."

Meanwhile, Jess added that, having recently been given assurances that the implementation timetable will not be allowed to slip, SAMW would be looking for these assurances to be confirmed by the FSA Board.

"We will also be looking to the Board to display its commitment to reach an early decision concerning control body options," he said. "We have said all along that the new service must be transparent and that all stakeholders must be able to influence the way in which meat inspection operates in the future. The proposed control body pilot has an important role to play in this. Moving towards a new charging regime, set to begin in April 2009, without achieving similar progress on service controls would be totally unacceptable."