Consumers at risk from contaminated and diseased meat

The public could be at risk of eating contaminated and diseased meat because of failings at slaughterhouses, according to a survey of meat hygiene inspectors published today (Sunday) by UNISON.

The findings – summarised in the report A Raw Deal – highlight concerns that contaminated and diseased meat could be cleared as fit for human consumption. It found that virtually every meat hygiene inspector surveyed (98%) said that the meat industry couldn’t be trusted to ensure no faecal contamination was present before meat was sold on to consumers.

In addition, 96% of the inspectors thought that staff directly employed by the meat industry couldn’t be trusted to recognise and remove diseased sections of meat.

Currently most meat hygiene inspectors are employed independently of slaughterhouses. They examine every carcass to ensure that contaminated meat does not find its way onto supermarket shelves, or into restaurant and household kitchens.

However, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) plans to cut back on its inspectors which would leave the meat industry conducting more of its own safety controls, warns UNISON.

The report also revealed major concerns about the FSA’s impartiality, says UNISON. The vast majority of inspectors (86%) said they did not believe the FSA was truly independent of the meat industry. This perception was further illustrated with only 24% saying that the FSA encouraged them to report meat safety breaches.

The survey of meat hygiene inspectors also paints a picture of endemic workplace bullying, says UNISON. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents said they had witnessed, or been subjected to, bullying and/or harassment in the past year. The main source of bullying was identified, by 57% of inspectors, as the owners or employees of the meat plants that they inspected, followed by FSA line managers (40%).

A Raw Deal concludes that attempts by the meat industry to self-regulate, and to bypass and ignore inspectors, are likely to lead to an increase in the public consuming diseased and contaminated meat.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This is a grim wake-up call that some parts of the meat industry are being allowed to ride roughshod over the interests of the consumer.

“It’s disgusting that the public could end up eating a burger or sausage that has been contaminated by excrement, contains cysts, or made from a diseased animal.

“At best people could end up with a nasty case of food poisoning. At worst, those who are vulnerable, such as small children and the elderly, could end up falling seriously or even fatally ill.

“The meat hygiene inspectors who protect the public are being bullied out of the job, leaving the industry and profit-driven companies to keep the food on your plate safe.”

Notes to editors:
A Raw Deal: UNISON’s survey report of meat hygiene inspectors 2018 is available here
– This week is UNISON’s national conference which runs for four days from Tuesday (19 June); the local government conference (Sunday 17 to Monday 18 June); water, environment and transport (Sunday 17 to Monday 18 June); and energy (Monday 18 June). All conferences take place in Brighton at the Brighton Centre.


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