Scots anger with meat inspection intensifies

Scottish processors are seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister for Public Health in the Scottish Parliament to express their intense anger and frustration with inspection issues.

Scotland's meat wholesalers are seeking an urgent meeting with Shona Robison, Minister for Public Health in the Scottish Parliament, to express their intense anger and frustration at a number of meat inspection issues.

The minister is responsible for the Foods Standards Agency in Scotland, which is the controlling body for the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), through whom meat inspection services are provided.

"Our industry is currently being appallingly treated on meat inspection charges by MHS, with the very real danger that such treatment will severely damage future production capacity in Scotland," said Allan Jess, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW), speaking after writing to the minister to request an urgent meeting.

"Our first annoyance is that MHS totally ignored the views of UK meat associations when consulting on a proposed 8% increase in meat inspection charges. All meat associations opposed the increase on the grounds that it could not be justified and that it would threaten the financial viability of many businesses. MHS neither justified the increase nor had the courtesy to adequately address our concerns. Instead, without any prior notice, they wrote to member companies requiring the new charges to be paid from 1 April 2008."

"Along with other UK meat organisations, we wrote to the MHS Chief Executive about this, action which produced a most unacceptable response, still without any case being made to justify the increase."

Jess continued: "Adding insult to injury, MHS is currently set to benefit hugely next year from the continuing strength of the euro against sterling. MHS sets it charges in euros at the end of September each year, for the next financial year, but issues its invoices to meat plants in sterling. With the euro worth in excess of 80p at present, significantly more than in October 2007, MHS is set to receive a boost to its income in the region of 15% next year. Our members cannot see how this 15% extra income sits alongside MHS's unexplained and unjustified demand for an 8% increase in charges. We have already asked, along with other UK meat organisations, for inspection charges to be frozen at 2007-08 levels, again without receiving a worthwhile reply."

While Jess acknowledged that the MHS currently going through a transformation process he said this was another reason for current charges to be frozen while the so-called Transformed MHS is created. "In this context, in fact, we've been running a new inspection model for Scotland's meat plants, based on full compliance with all statutory inspection requirements. Applying the model to one sample abattoir, inspection costs totalled £45,000 for throughput levels as they stood during the final quarter of 2007. The actual charges imposed by MHS on the same plant during the same period, however, was £66,500, a serious over-charge which is likely to be mirrored in many other Scottish abattoirs. All of this is having a deeply damaging effect on Scotland's meat industry and can only, in due course, inflict similar damage on the Scottish rural economy."

Jess said that in light of these concerns the processors were anxious to present their case for a more reasoned and sensible approach to meat inspection to the minister for Public Health as a matter of urgency.