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Keep meat clean by keeping meat inspectors independent

Millions of people across Europe eat meat. That meat is clean and edible because independent meat inspectors make sure it is fit to eat, but the European Union may be about to scrap the regulation that ensures this.

Currently EU regulation requires slaughterhouses to be inspected by people who are not employed by the slaughterhouses; this ensures decisions over what meat to pass as safe to eat is made by an impartial person rather than someone whose employer stands to lose money from deeming meat unsafe to eat.

In the UK those people are meat hygiene inspectors, official veterinarians and their support staff. They’re employed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in England & Wales and Food Standards Scotland in Scotland with separate arrangements in Northern Ireland. The FSA also employs two contractors for some extra capacity work. 

This regulation is up for renewal this year, and powerful corporations have been lobbying for MEPs to scrap it.

Meat inspectors play a vital role in public health

UNISON has members working as meat hygiene inspectors, official veterinarians, their support staff as well as contractors. They work in abattoirs inspecting meat and ensuring animal welfare.

Inspectors check the hygiene in abattoirs and cold stores. They:

  • 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.

If slaughterhouses did their own inspection, the incentive would be profit not safety

The more meat that passes as fit to eat, the more money slaughterhouses make. This means that if meat inspectors are employed by slaughterhouses, they could be put under pressure to pass as much meat as possible as fit to eat.

UNISON knows from its members’ testimonies that inspectors already experience pressure and bullying to pass as much meat as possible, so it is likely they will experience more if their own bosses run the slaughterhouses.

UNISON is worried this will lead to an increase in food poisoning and even deaths from unsafe meat.

Unclean meat kills

In 2014 there were 22,000 hospitalisations and 110 deaths from unclean chicken alone. Parliamentary questions told us what diseases in chicken were stopped from entering the human ood chain between 2012 and 2014:

  • 3 million chickens recorded as being contaminated with chicken faeces,

  • 5.5 million cases of ascites – a build-up of fluid caused by heart or liver disease – were identified, along with 1.8m cases of peritonitis and 4m of septicaemia

  • 460,000 reported cases of campylobacter

 

Regulation and independent inspection 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. To keep meat clean we need strict regulation and independent inspection, not relaxed rules.