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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Meat Inspection

No apologies for returning to the issue of food safety and meat inspection. It has been in the news every day this week, followed by feature articles in today's papers.

And rightly so. The horsemeat scandal has been a real wake up call to both consumers, regulators and the industry alike. Today, with no small degree of irony, the NFU pitched in with this piece in The Herald:

"The National Farmers' Union (NFU) Scotland has warned that the country's livestock farmers are becoming increasingly frustrated by the deepening crisis, which is in danger of damaging their livelihoods. Yesterday it called on the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Scottish Government to get across to the public that Scotch meat standards remain among the highest in the world."

The irony is that for years parts of the meat industry have been lobbying at EU, UK and Scottish levels for greater self-regulation. Now that they issue has blown up in their faces they want government to act!

As we highlighted yesterday the meat inspection workforce managed by the Food Standards agency has shrunk from a high point of 1700 – during the BSE and e-Coli crises in the 1990s – to around 800 today. This has been a direct consequence of the deregulatory policies of both the European Commission and UK Government to hand over more and more meat inspection duties to the meat industry and dispense with proper independent inspection.

The Scottish Government rightly decided last June to take back operational control of this devolved issue through the establishment of FSA Scotland. Something many parts of the media have overlooked, and perhaps not surprisingly, the Scottish Government have not exactly been shouting loudly about this week.

We warned then that a new food standards body for Scotland could result in watering down of standards and says it must not be used as a backdoor to privatisation. The de-regulating meat lobby has been just as busy in Scotland.

So here are three things that the FSA should do now and Scottish Ministers could also commit to as they introduce the legislation to formally establish the new body:

  1. The immediate re-introduction of daily, independent inspections of meat cutting premises,
  2. The FSA to oversee the independent inspection of food manufacturing premises –where government cuts have compromised the ability of local environmental health services to do so,
  3. The FSA to ensure that all horses killed in the UK for human consumption are tested for the drug “BUTE” and that any horse carcases tested should not be released for human consumption until the test has returned a negative result.
We need a measurable shift away from self-regulation and back to independent inspection at all stages of the food process. Perhaps now the meat lobby will recognise that this is in their interests as well as consumers. 


  1. I always assumed there was independent inspection at all stages of food processing. Astonished that there isn't. Not however surprised at the food industry double standards. Profit will always come first!

  2. Dave, you've got it wrong again, mentioning Trading Standards.
    Environmental Health Officers inspect food premises.

    1. Thanks for spotting, that bit was the UNISON UK policy.