The scandal of profits before food safety

Meat inspectors and official vets feel abandoned by the Food Standards Agency and the government, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis writes in today’s Guardian.

And the public is being put at risk “simply to increase the profits in the meat industry,” he adds.

Mr Prentis’s letter follows a Guardian report which found that two thirds of fresh chicken in the UK is contaminated with campylbacter – a group of bacteria which is a common cause of food poisoning.

Guardian article: Poultry industry’s dirty secret

He points out that privatisation 20 years ago allowed poultry meat producers to do away with independent, government-employed, poultry meat inspectors. Instead, the industry was allowed to employ its own poultry inspection assistants – and in smaller plants the inspector is often the plant owner.

Non-poultry meat inspection is still the responsibility of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and Mr Prentis says this “is a highly skilled job that has been hopelessly undervalued” by the agency.

“Only when a qualified and independent meat hygiene inspector is present is the job done properly. Sadly this is getting much harder.” 

Mr Prentis’s letter concludes: “Protection of the human food chain must be the first and most important duty of the FSA.

“Meat inspectors, official veterinarians and the people who support them defend the consumer each and every day. These roles should not be privatised or weakened.

“The people who carry out these vital roles feel that both the FSA and the government have abandoned them and put the public at risk, simply to increase the profits in the meat industry.

“As their union, we cannot silently stand by and let this happen. This week we are balloting our members for industrial action.

“They don’t want to strike – they want to do their jobs protecting the public – but they are at their wits’ end.

“We hope that the FSA will begin to negotiate and recognise our members for the important job they do.”

Guardian letter: It’s a scandal that profits come before food safety

Meat hygiene inspectors to be balloted for strike action

Meat hygiene ballot – background

Key issue: meat inspectors deserve fair pay