The UK’s disappearing meat hygiene inspectors

Who is checking our meat is safe?

Meat has been in the news a lot lately, and not in a good way. Meat suppliers Russell Hume have just had to lay off hundreds of staff after an unannounced visit to their premises from Food Standards Agency inspectors.

The inspectors found that meat was being incorrectly labelled and there were “serious non-compliance with food hygiene regulations”, at the company that supplied to Weatherspoons and Jamie Oliver restaurants, amongst others.

Russell Hume had to halt production. The firm lost several customers, and then went into administration.

So far 260 people have lost their jobs and it is expected that all the employees will eventually face unemployment.

But that is not the only meat-based scandal so far this year.

A Food Standards Agency inspection of another meat supplier called Fairfax Meadow uncovered problems with how the company were applying use-by dates to some products and the company had to recall a load of their meat.

And let’s not forget the famous expose of 2 Sisters last September, when undercover journalists found some extremely dubious practises at the UK’s largest poultry supplier – from putting chicken meat that had been dropped on the floor back on to the conveyor belt, to altering the slaughter date of poultry, and sending chicken that had been returned by supermarkets back out as new meat to other sellers.

Eating unhygienic meat is extremely serious. It can lead to painful stomach problems, and in some cases death. That’s why meat hygiene inspectors have such an important job, and why UNISON is worried about their declining numbers.

Between March 2013 and April 2017, the number of meat inspectors employed by the independent Food Standards Agency (FSA) dropped by 30%, from 587 to 413.

Some of that drop is due to staff transferring from the FSA to Food Standards Scotland (FSS). T

he biggest factor behind the decline, however, is because the Food Standards Agency is not recruiting new meat hygiene inspectors, and are encouraging the private sector to do it instead.

The problem with this is that the private inspectors are employed by a company whose primary goal is making profit, not the public interest.

UNISON believes this could have a negative impact, as it makes it possible for inspectors to be pressured to make sure more meat passes the grade in order to maximise profits.

There has already been a case of a contracted inspector being accused of falsifying records to cover up poor practices, which the Civil Service Commission had to investigate.