Privatised and deregulated meat inspection would not be safe.
UNISON is campaigning against the potential privatisation of meat inspection, and domestic and international pressure to deregulate the industry.
Meat inspectors and vets working in abattoirs are the defenders of our food safety. We want the government to continue being responsible for inspecting our meat to make sure it is protected from contaminants and is safe for us to eat.
State-employed meat inspection safeguards animal welfare and is vital for public safety and consumer confidence.
Meat inspectors play a vital role in public health
UNISON has members working as meat hygiene inspectors, lead veterinarians and official veterinarians. They work in abattoirs inspecting meat and ensuring animal welfare.
Inspectors check the hygiene in abattoirs, cutting plants, factories and cold stores. They:
- check animal welfare conditions and inspect live animals, game or poultry for any signs of disease;
- carry out post mortems on diseased animals;
- check meat transportation conditions;
- make sure unfit meat is destroyed properly;
- recommend improvements and make sure they are carried out.
Meat inspectors work with lead veterinarians and official veterinarians to make sure meat hygiene meets industry standards.
They are authorised to take immediate action when they find an abattoir or farm is breaking the rules, including issuing verbal and/or written advice, warnings or recommending prosecution; reporting animal welfare issues to an appropriate enforcement body.
Regulation ensures safety
Before any meat can leave an abattoir it must be inspected. European regulations provide the legislative requirement for this.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for implementing those regulations and is a non-ministerial government department. This means it is run by a chief executive, not a government minister.
The FSA is also the voice of the UK in the European Union as the central competent authority.
If abattoirs did their own inspection, the incentive would be profit not safety
Meat inspectors must not be employed by the abattoirs. What would happen if an abattoir worker or a staff member employed by an abattoir were responsible for telling their boss that a carcass can’t be used? In an industry known for bullying, it is likely they would risk being sacked, and the incentive would be to not condemn the carcass.
Privatising meat inspection could lead to corners being cut, hygiene standards being lowered and animal welfare being disregarded. Cost factors could quickly become a consideration above and beyond enforcing regulations.
Our 2013 staff survey of members working in the FSA showed the dangers of not having state inspectors and vets.
- Could the meat industry be trusted to carry out meat inspection itself on behalf of the consumer?
99% of those responding said no.
- Could meat industry staff be responsible for recognising and removing (for example) conditions such as abscesses, parasitic cysts, pneumonia, pleurisy or septicaemia?
98.4% of those responding said no.
- Have you ever seen animals being mistreated where you work?
38.3% of those responding said yes.
Have you witnessed bullying or harassment at work in the last two years?’
74.7% of those responding said yes. A further 55.8% admitted that they had been bullied with 67.6% saying that bullying came from abattoir plant owners or plant workers.
The public cares about farming
Independent research conducted for Labelling Matters shows that 83% of consumers in the UK want to know which farm system has been used to produce their meat and dairy products and 79% said farm animal welfare was important when deciding which food products to buy.
Regulation of the meat industry saves lives
After the BSE crisis in 1996 and e.coli in 1996-7 the government introduced much stricter regulation enforcement.
As a result, between 1997 and 2001 we produced the cleanest meat in the history of the British meat industry. We want to see return to those high standards.
It only costs 50p
The price for independent meat inspectors and vets who ensure public safety is just 50p a year per person in the UK. The FSA surveys show that people think this is money well spent.
When services are privatised everyone suffers, service quality declines, workforce conditions are eroded and equality considerations take a back seat.
Christina McAnea, UNISON head of health care