A clause exempting small businesses from such costs was deleted as part of the European Commission’s review of the regulation covering official controls of food, feed and animal welfare and health (882/2004). That caused an outcry from small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The matter was debated by the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee on April 14. However, FoodManufacture.co.uk understands little has changed.
Glenis Willmott, leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) has claimed proposals allow for individual Member States to decide how inspections would be financed. She also said Labour MEPs did not want to see small businesses facing additional costs they could not afford.
£500 for each inspection
However, Bob Salmon, director, Food Solutions, who compiled a petition signed by more than 1,100 small businesses pressing MEPs to vote against scrapping the exemption, said they could still end up bearing costs. These could be as much as £500 for each inspection.
“So many are saying if this charge comes in, it will be uneconomic and they will have to close down,” said Salmon.
He recognised there was an urgent need to finance food inspectors, especially as he was picking up on worrying feedback from local authorities about plans to cut staff.
“The forecasts I am getting from a number of local authorities are that they are going to halve the number of inspectors by the middle of next year,” he said. “Some authorities I have heard of are going down to one inspector for their area.”
That was especially alarming in the wake of the horsemeat food fraud scandal last year and further revelations today (April 17) regarding fraudulent substitution of other meats for lamb in takeaway food, he added. However, forcing small firms with wafer-thin margins, which made up 80% of the food and drink manufacturing sector, was not the answer and would damage the economy, he claimed.
Willmott cautioned that much would depend on the final outcome of negotiations and the position of the next European Parliament following elections in May.
A final decision by the European Council and Parliament is thought to be unlikely until later in 2015. And a decision would then have to be made on the issue at Westminster.