Tensions over MHS defused

Geoff Tierney, the man charged by the Food Standards Agency to review official meat hygiene controls, has proved himself to be an adept juggler.

At the FSA's board meeting in Cardiff on meat hygiene controls, he managed to keep all the different interests reasonably happy with the outcomes decided for the future.

He prefaced the meeting by pointing out that fundamental change in official hygiene controls would require a change in European laws and that could take up to 10 years.

However, he added that the Meat Hygiene Service should be allowed a chance to transform itself. "We don't want to lose experience, motivation and willingness for change. The MHS should be allowed to demonstrate what it can do and we have asked Steve (McGrath) how change will be delivered."

This move defused a confrontation with Unison, which had always fought against the idea favoured by the industry - to break up the MHS, with licences being granted to private firms.

Tierney acknowledged that the issue of cost-charging was sensitive, especially since the move towards full cost recovery from industry had been mooted. He also noted that the 14% base cut by 2009, proposed by the MHS, was anathema to the meat industry.

His suggestion that the Meat Hygiene Policy Forum be replaced with an Advisory Board, with industry members shaping the direction of official hygiene controls, went some way to appeasing the meat industry, which had expressed anger at MHS budgetary targets it did not believe went far enough.

To stave off an industry rebellion, Tierney also had to agree that preparatory work for a control body or pilot would begin immediately. This, he said, would take over if the MHS proved unwilling to transform itself. Tierney ended by saying: "2007 must be remembered as the year that put meat inspection back on track."

British Meat Processors Asso-ciation chief executive Gerry Finley appeared satisfied with the outcomes proposed. "We are now looking to work closely with the FSA, the MHS and the industry to ensure the implementation of these recommendations lead to the most effective way forward for the future delivery of official controls."