Ian Adderly, Unison national officer for meat inspection, said that meat inspectors could be at the forefront of combating toxoplasmosis, if tests were carried out daily.
But he claimed abattoirs and the FSA were turning a “blind eye” to the importance of toxoplasmosis testing in abattoirs.
He said that the emphasis at meat processing plants was on “producing carcasses as quickly as possible” when it should be on “providing clean carcasses, free from faecal contamination."
“The main aim of the abattoir is profit, and slowing down the line to check for diseases costs money, so they don’t like it,” said Adderly.
“Toxoplasmosis is something that inspectors could be at the frontline of solving; it only takes a day for results to come back, this should be made part of their daily inspections.”
“Our members tell us that contaminated meat is regularly making its way into the food chain,” added Adderly.
There are 350,000 cases of toxoplasmosis a year, according to the FSA. But only 10–20% of those infected will show symptoms, with the other 80% likely to have the parasite in their bodies for life without noticing it.
For pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, toxoplasmosis can be potentially life-threatening.
A spokeswoman for the FSA told FoodManufacture.co.uk that it was “surprising and disappointing” that Unison suggested the FSA would cut corners on food safety, or fail to act on evidence that the correct procedures were not being followed.
The FSA spokeswoman denied the inspectors had not complied with the relevant regulations.
“Unison appears to be implying that meat inspectors are allowing contaminated meat to enter the food chain, but the evidence doesn’t support this," she said.
“Our most recent post mortem inspection checks have shown 99.3% food hygiene compliance in meat plants, which suggests that the way our staff are enforcing meat hygiene regulations is working well.”
There is a continuing row between Unison and the FSA over changes to meat plant inspections. Meat processors are pushing for privatisation of the inspection process to cut costs. Currently all inspections are under the control of the FSA and changes to EU law would be necessary to bring about any shift.
The industry sees third-party risk-based inspections as more desirable, whereas Unison fears this will involve redundancies amongst its members. It claims it is “absolutely vital” that state employed inspectors remain in abattoirs.
In the past there have been accusations of bullying of inspectors in abattoirs. Unison claimed inspectors are often subjected to verbal abuse, “pelted” with pieces of meat and seen as a burden in abattoirs.
Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), which represents meat processors, said: “The BMPA hasn’t seen evidence on which Unison is making assertions, but the level of inspection [carried out by the FSA] should be in line with any objective assessment of any risk with toxoplasmosis.”
For more on bullying in the meat industy, click here .