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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.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Regulatory cuts and the meat scandal

Sunday newspapers doing what they do best today, giving us some in depth analysis and breaking new ground with the week's news stories.

The standout story comes from Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald. Three key regulatory statistics form the basis for the story:
  • The number of meat inspectors in Scotland has fallen by more than 50%, from 170 in 2003 to 75 today.
  • The number of samples taken by Scottish local authorities to test for food safety has fallen from more than 16,000 in 2008-09 to 10,200 in 2011-12
  • Over the last four years there has been a 21% drop in the number of specialist food safety officers employed by local authorities and an 11% fall in the number of environmental health officers.
Then an expert to give us an overiew in this case Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the occupational and environmental health research group at the University of Stirling He argued that the horsemeat fiasco was a "sentinel event" with widespread implications. "We need to protect public health better. Declines in meat inspector numbers and local authority food safety officers, along with reduced food sampling, must contribute to a weakening of public health standards and the possibility of criminal abuses in the food system." He also criticised Government ministers for trying to heap the blame on food processors when it was their responsibility to safeguard public health, saying: "We need to revive, not marginalise, environmental health and food safety and raise standards of protection for consumers."

And my own contribution. "Unison's Scottish organiser, Dave Watson, accused governments of forgetting the lessons learned from the BSE crisis in the 1990s about controlling the meat industry. He said: "Only strong, independent inspection can properly protect the public from industry malpractice. The current scandal follows cuts in meat inspection and environmental health services, proving that 'light touch' regulation has been a disaster for consumers."

On a UK basis, the Observer today gives us an update on the latest developments and an excellent piece by Will Hutton pointing to how the meat scandal shows all that is rotten about the free marketeers.

"As an effective regulator, it (FSA) was disliked by "wealth-generating" supermarkets and food companies. Its 1,700 inspectors were agents of the state terrifying honest-to-God entrepreneurs with unannounced spot checks and enforced "gold-plated" food labelling. Regulation should be "light touch".

This is a point we made last year and again at the outset of the scandal. The meat industry has been lobbying for self-regulation for years. Now it has come back to bite them they are falling over themselves to reassure us. As Hutton puts it:

"Paterson, beneath the ideological bluster, is as innocent about business as Bambi. He finds himself with no answer to the charge that his hollowed-out department, a gutted FSA with 800 fewer inspectors and eviscerated local government were and are incapable of ensuring public health."

I could not have put it better myself.

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