Meat inspection costs set to be unveiled

Plans by the Food Standards Agency to recover the cost of meat inspection in abattoirs and processing plants from the industry will be outlined to a meeting of the FSA's Scottish food advisory committee in Aberdeen on Thursday.

The meeting is open to the public and will precede a meeting of the FSA board in Belfast next Wednesday to consider proposals to achieve full cost recovery by 2015 while at the same time implementing major cost reductions in the operation of the service.

The proposals have caused outrage in the industry and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, with the support of other industry organisation, has gone as far as drawing up plans for a devolved meat inspection service in Scotland.

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The association says full cost recovery will saddle the industry with a bill for 32 million - with two-thirds being passed back to producers.

But the FSA's director for Scotland, Prof Charles Milne, says the agency is obliged by government to achieve full cost recovery and is proposing to implement cost recovery over three years, with concessions for smaller abattoirs, to ease the transition for the industry. Speaking yesterday in Aberdeen, Milne strongly denied accusations that the FSA operated a high-cost bureaucratic inspection system.

"We are reducing our costs to 62 million by 2015 compared with 9m in 2006-7 which indicates a huge level of efficiency," he said.

"And we are proposing to delay the start of the cost recovery programme by three months from 1 January to 1 April next year."

He added: "We have rolled back legislation where we can but have to be careful we don't lose public confidence by relaxing regulations too quickly."

But he suggested there might be scope for Scottish meat plants to reduce the number of inspectors because of their scale of operation.

It is proposed to introduce full cost recovery over three years with a tiered reduction of charges for plants handling fewer than 5000 livestock units. This could be as much as 70 per cent for plants handling less than 1000 units.

The FSA board is also to be asked to approve a proposal for milk and meat from the offspring and descendants of cloned cattle and pigs to be allowed into the food chain in line with EU legislation.