Critics say EU drive to de-regulate food industry means hygiene, safety and welfare standards have been compromised

Tim Lezard

Findus logoUnions are warning the government that it must take steps to rebuild confidence in the food industry through independent regulation.

It comes as further cases have emerged of ready meals contaminated with horsemeat.

A pan-European inspectors’ organisation has blamed the horsemeat scandal on moves by the EU equivalent of the Food Standards Agency [FSA] to deregulate the industry and end daily inspections of meat processing plants.

The European Working Community for Food Inspection, which has members in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Holland and Luxembourg as well as the UK, points out that EU regulations allow for meat processing plants to be visited only once in 3 – 12 months.

Such pre-arranged audits are in contrast to a daily regime of inspections before the 2006 regulations were introduced.

UNISON says the scandal has demonstrated the need for daily, independent inspections of all meat cutting and processing plants.

Heather Wakefield, UNISON head of local government said: “It is time for the government and the EU to respond to the growing demand to increase our meat inspection regime in order to prove to the public that they are serious about this crisis, and that the profits of private industry do not come before the health of the people.

“We’ve already seen a supermarket chief blame councils, hospitals and schools for this crisis.

“The government must act now and show that they are serious about the safety of our food, and are prepared to invest in order to protect the public.”

Others say the scandal demonstrates that ministers’ approach to dismantling valuable regulatory and policy-making bodies is mistaken.

Critics say it has led to more fragmentation and complexity in government departments.

Prospect’s deputy general secretary Leslie Manasseh said: “How many MPs thought through the consequences when voting in favour of abolishing or reorganising public bodies.

“It is ironic that that after being vilified by some politicians and parts of the media, FSA staff now have an essential part to play in the resolution of the crisis.

“It is barely three months since we experienced the full force of the Ash Dieback outbreak, with government relying on similarly hard-pressed specialists to manage the consequences.

“The crisis illustrates very well the crucial role specialists must play in government.

“Far from the caricature of time-serving bureaucrats, they are the go-to people when there is a crisis. Government must take them seriously.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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