The British Poultry Council (BPC) has rejected claims by Unison union that abattoirs are risking meat safety by allowing untrained staff to carry out inspections.
“Unison’s allegations are grossly irresponsible and misleading,” said BPC chief executive Peter Bradnock. “Legislation states that an official vet employed by the Meat Hygiene Service has at his disposal official meat inspectors and/or [in-house] poultry inspection assistants (PIAs). Previously it was the official vet’s responsibility to train PIAs, but in 2006 new regulations stated that PIAs had to be trained following EC [European Commission] guidance.”
For every meat inspection, a company needs to train up three or four PIAs so that there is always someone on hand, said Bradnock. “This provides better resources for the vet and the advantage to the company is that meat inspectors have a lot of downtime, whereas PIAs can be rested by doing other tasks within the factory.
“This approach is working well. A recent EFSA [European Food Safety Authority] survey showed the UK to have the third lowest levels of salmonella in chicken meat sampled in abattoirs.”
However, a Unison spokeswoman claimed that despite the 2006 legislation, very few poultry assistants had been trained. “We’ve been pushing the Food Standards Agency to find out why action isn’t being taken. Abattoirs have until 2010 to train their PIAs, but they’re certainly not on track to achieve this,” she said. “Not having inspectors trained to the highest standards on hand when chickens are being slaughtered could lead to contaminated meat.”
Unison national officer Ben Priestly added: "Despite its guardianship of public health, the FSA is keen to water down the rules. It is on The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health pushing for existing transitional regulations to stay in place so that new PIAs only undertake training in the exact duties they will carry out. If you were on a plane and the pilot announced that he could take off and land, but didn’t know what to do in an emergency, you'd get off the plane; yet the FSA finds this acceptable when it comes to public health. We want people trained to the highest degree, not the lowest."