MHS concerns

In his column in the 18 September issue of MTJ Steve McGrath asks the industry to embrace "the spirit and detail of the law". There are few members of the industry who would wish to do otherwise. Their businesses depend on providing a safe product for consumers.

It goes without saying that industry bodies, including AIMS, would never support non-compliant plants that were unwilling to put their houses in order. AIMS does, however, provide legal and technical support to those who wish to comply.

During the re-approvals exercise we have helped numerous plants gain approval, once agreement has been reached with the Veterinary Meat Hygiene Advisors (VMHA) on what improvements are necessary. Many of the food businesses involved have made substantial investments to become approved, and there has been a staggering decrease in Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) enforcement action.

The question that needs to be asked of Mr McGrath is why, after 10 years of MHS permanent presence, could the majority of premises not be approved at the first VMHA visit? I believe the sad answer is that few MHS staff knew what was required for compliance, and industry was naturally unwilling to invest, fearing the next vet that came along would require something different.

Has transformation of the MHS improved the situation? I am afraid not. Following the much vaunted 'transformation', many official veterinarians (OVs) now take home less pay than meat inspectors. I was personally derided by Mr McGrath and some of his colleagues for suggesting that these vets would be paid as little as 10 per hour as a direct result of the totally flawed tender process. Would he like to deny this is the case? If not, I think we are entitled to believe that this explains graphically why the quality of OVs has plummeted along with the decision making process.

Mr McGrath asks that they be given the respect they are due. If a control system were put in place that used a limited number of vets to carry out audits and enforcement, showing such respect would not be a problem.

As it is, when I attend Food Standards Agency Board meetings and hear assurances that MHS transformation has not increased the risk to public health, I feel very uneasy.

Norman Bagley, policy director, Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS)