The European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee had tabled amendments deleting a rider exempting small businesses from this ‘full cost recovery’, said Salmon.
This had been done without adequate consultation, he said. The proposals would affect small food retailers, foodservice operators and processors and the ENVI committee is expected to decide on them on April 14.
They allow for local councils to recoup costs of hygiene inspections under the European Commission’s review of official controls of food, feed and animal welfare and health (Regulation 882/2004).
“The official UK position adopted by the FSA [Food Standards Agency] is that they [local councils] should have ‘discretion to determine where, when and how to introduce charging’,” said Salmon. “Can you imagine any council not charging what they like?”
He is urging interested parties to contact Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to persuade them to accept the exemption. He is also compiling a petition to present to MEPs, which at the time this article was published had attracted the support of 1,182 outraged firms.
Salmon said he and industry representatives originally discussed the exemption with EU directorate for health and consumer affairs, DG Sanco, last year.
‘Public should pay’
A measure was added to the draft regulation to exempt businesses employing fewer than 10 persons and with an annual turnover or balance sheet of €2M or less, said Salmon. “The logic for this was that these inspections are not for the benefit of the business but for the public. Therefore the public should pay through taxes – as they always have done.
“Very small food businesses cannot budget for these random visits and so would suffer real hardship. We were told too that the proposal could lead to practices akin to bribery or intimidation.”
He told FoodManufacture.co.uk some MEPs had pledged to block the amendments, but the final outcome remained to be seen.
Separately, trades union Unison has raised concerns that FSA proposals to halt manual inspections of pig carcasses in slaughterhouses from June would hit the quality of meat consumers eat. The FSA is currently consulting on the proposals, with changes to red meat and poultry inspections to follow.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme on April 9, Heather Wakefield, head of the Local Government Service Group at Unison, representing meat inspectors, said current inspections had pinpointed numerous issues.
“Three million chickens alone in the last couple of years that were infected suffering from foetal contamination and hundreds of thousands of carcasses that were found to have TB [tuberculosis], septicaemia, peritonitis, all kinds of really horrible diseases. You wouldn’t want this stuff on your dinner plate.”
However, Phil Flaherty, FSA head of EU regulatory reform, said vets would still make visual inspections and additional mandatory manual inspections were being scrapped because of food safety fears. “Every animal is going to get inspected whilst it’s alive and all the carcasses and offal are going to get inspected after the animal’s been slaughtered.
“The idea is that, during the post-mortem inspection, the officials won’t cut into lymph nodes or palpate organs, as routine. That’s because that’s been shown by EFSA [European Food Safety Authority] to potentially spread bacterial contamination on the carcasses.”
Suspicious carcasses could still be referred for more detailed inspections, he stressed.
The British Meat Processors Association accused Unison of “shameful scaremongering”, sparked by threats to meat inspectors’ jobs. The overhaul followed EFSA opinions that the existing system was “outdated” and “did not adequately address today’s food-borne hazards”, it said.
“The new EU rules will modernise inspections, make them more risk-based, and enhance consumer safety.”