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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.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Food safety abandoned to company profits

With more than 60% of chickens in the UK infected with a food poisoning bug, you might have expected the UK’s food safety watchdog to be tightening up inspections. Instead they are allowing the meat industry to inspect their own poultry, akin to paying students to mark their own exam papers.
Since 1994, the FSA at the behest of the meat industry has been deregulating the independent inspection of poultry. 37 of the 87 poultry plants throughout the UK have employed their own meat inspectors and the FSA’s latest plans will finish the job.
This comes after the Scottish Parliament approved the visual only inspection of pigs, bringing Scotland in line with the rest of the UK. This means tumours and abscesses will be minced into the sausages and pies we eat. The meat industry lobby works here as well!
Meat inspectors across Europe have warned that the latest measures would place public health in grave danger. According to FSA figures, more than 60% of chickens in the UK are infected with the campylobacter food poisoning bug, which on average kills 110 people each year and results in 22,000 people being treated in hospital. As we highlighted last month, the FSA was heavily criticised for backtracking on a decision to 'name and shame' retailers and abattoirs during a year-long testing programme on retail chicken for campylobacter.

This is all in addition to food fraud, another issue the FSA has ducked. Food mis-labelling is widespread, as is the practice of substituting premium commodity products in whole or in part with cheaper ingredients.
Giving the industry carte blanche to inspect its own products is yet another cynical attempt at privatisation which would save the industry money at the expense of public safety. Nobody should have to worry about eating food containing tumours, faeces, abscesses and other contaminants.
There has been no consultation in Scotland or the rest of the UK over these plans. Official controls currently in place to protect consumers from eating contaminated meat, cost each person in the UK just 38p per year.  A small price to pay for safe food.
Many experts in this field believe that the FSA has been captured by the meat industry. In June this year, I gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee on the Food (Scotland) Bill that will create Food Standards Scotland. I highlighted the work of Scottish meat inspectors in preventing over a million instances of diseased animal carcasses from entering the food chain. The FoI data we released included 100,000 chicken tumours. I said, "This shows what a vital job meat inspectors do. We are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that Food Standards Scotland is focused on safety of consumers not food industry profits. Meat inspectors and vets must be able to carry out thorough independent inspections, free from food industry influence."
This latest plan shows that the FSA, as currently constituted, has abandoned the consumer. When the Food (Scotland) Bill is debated at Stage 1 in the coming weeks, MSPs should ensure that the new Scottish organisation puts food safety before profits. Meanwhile, everyone in the UK is at risk.

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