Public health in grave danger if slaughterhouses inspect own meat

UNISON is warning that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) would be allowing the meat industry to “mark its own exam papers”, if it pushes ahead with proposals to give financial incentives to slaughterhouses to inspect their own meat for contamination.   

When the FSA board meets today (Wednesday 10 September), it will be asked to agree recommendations put forward by a steering group made up of representatives from the meat industry. Since 1994, 37 of the 87 poultry plants throughout the UK have employed their own meat inspectors. But if the latest proposals are accepted it would pave the way for the complete privatisation of poultry and rabbit slaughterhouses.  

The union, which represents more than 500 meat inspectors, official veterinarians and support staff, is warning that the measures would place public health in grave danger

According to FSA figures, more than 60% of chickens in the UK are infected with the campylobacter food poisoning bug, which on average kills 110 people each year and results in 22,000 people being treated in hospital.

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: 

“These proposals would result in slaughterhouses being subsidised by the taxpayer if they employ their own Plant Inspection Assistants. This makes as much sense as a teacher paying students to mark their own exam papers.

“Giving the industry carte blanche to inspect its own products is yet another cynical attempt at privatisation which would save the industry money at the expense of public safety. Nobody should have to worry about eating food containing tumours, faeces, abscesses and other contaminants.

“The FSA has not consulted the public and has no mandate to privatise this section of the meat industry. We are urging the FSA not to agree to these recommendations.”

The FSA came under attack in July for backtracking on a decision to ‘name and shame’ retailers and abattoirs during a year-long testing programme on retail chicken for campylobacter. It had announced it would publish quarterly results detailing the retailer that sold the chicken, whether the chicken had tested positive for campylobacter, and the quantities of the bug found. 

Official controls currently in place to protect consumers from eating contaminated meat, cost each person in the UK just 38p per year.