The Food Standards Agency (FSA) hasn't had the best of press recently, now they have forced their staff out on strike and refused to resolve the dispute at ACAS.
There has been growing concern over the way the FSA handles food safety across the UK. It's part of the reason why Scotland is in the process of establishing a separate body, although many of the problems are likely to remain here as well.
A recent survey for the Food Standards Agency showed 59% of raw chicken bought at supermarkets contained the potentially deadly bacteria Campylobacter. As an article in the Scotsman put it, "After a decade of trying to get the poultry industry to clean up its act, the Food Standards Agency had promised to name and shame the worst offenders in the first quarter of its year-long survey. However, pressure from the industry has led the FSA to back down".
Few lessons also appear to have been learned from the horsemeat scandal. The Guardian discovered that the publication of the inquiry into the scandal has been blocked amid government concerns that the public would be frightened by the idea that criminals were still able to interfere with their food.
UNISON members in the FSA will be taking strike action on 26th and 27th August. For the second year in a row, the FSA imposed a pay rise of 0.75% on our members, while most other public sector workers have been offered a 1% increase. Even as late as last week, UNISON asked them to reconsider and go to ACAS for arbitration, but they refused.
The primary job of meat ispectors is to ensure the meat we eat is slaughtered safely and that contaminated meat doesn't enter the food chain. Since April 2012 meat inspectors and vets have prevented over a million instances of diseased animal carcasses from entering the food chain in Scotland. This included:
659,000 instances of the Liver Fluke parasite
427,000 instances of pneumonia in red meat carcasses
100,000 instances of adult tape worm
100,000 tumours in chickens
1100 instances of parasitic lung worm in cattle, from entering the food chain.
We all know from hard experience in many sectors that light touch regulation doesn't work. It's a message that hasn't yet been understood by the UK and Scottish government's. Independent chicken inspections have already been diluted and the Scottish Government has recently done the same for pigs. Meat inspectors, official veterinarians and support staff cost each person in the country just 38 pence per year. A small price to pay for safer food.
To add insult to injury they are being offered pay rises below even the miserly government pay policy. Staff in slaughterhouses work in some of the most dirty, difficult and stressful conditions, surrounded by blood and faeces, to keep the public safe from contaminated meat. They deserve a fair pay rise.