Scots criticise MHS reform plan

Scotland's meat wholesalers believe the current reform of UK meat inspection will result in a doubling of costs to the industry by 2011, with no equivalent benefit to anyone.

"It's extremely difficult to understand why recent meat inspection changes in Holland have resulted in a 40% reduction in costs, while a similar process here in the UK is set to increase average charges from £64,000 to £137,000 per abattoir over the next four years," said Allan Jess, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).

"It could be a lot worse than that, of course. If you apply the same MHS calculations to an abattoir killing 1,100 cattle per week - and there are several working at that level in Scotland - charges would rise from approximately £187,000 at present to an absolutely staggering £403,000 by 2011. This is wholly and utterly unacceptable and must be stopped before it destroys the UK meat industry."

Jess was commenting after sending a strongly worded letter to FSA deputy chair Ian Reynolds, in which SAMW voiced "serious concerns" over several aspects of the planned creation of the TMHS (Transformed Meat Hygiene Service).

"The approach to transforming the MHS is distinctly lacking in ambition," said Jess. "Is anyone, for example, investigating how the Dutch cut costs by 40%? There's also no evidence that core structural and staffing issues are being addressed. In voicing such a concern, of course, it would be helpful if we could examine current financial and cost details There must be full transparency on this issue to ensure trust and confidence for all concerned.

"As a first step, the present situation would be helped considerably by the early introduction by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of their promised Control Body trial, a move which would deliver meaningful benchmarking of MHS performance," he added. "We need that information right now - not at some point in the distant future. Instead, we seem to be currently stuck with cavalier MHS statements about the doubling of meat inspection charges, alongside input from the FSA, which suggests that these costs can be readily absorbed, with retailers picking up the bill. That's naïve in the extreme.

"This whole industry is in an increasingly perilous state at present and further muddled and extremely costly thinking in relation to meat inspection could, quite frankly, be one step too far."