The planned rise in inspection rates – which SAMW claimed was an 11% rise – was “unacceptable” and “unjustified”, said SAMW, after FSS revealed the new charges last week (June 16). The FSS said EU law required it to charge processors for all official meat hygiene inspections, and the increase amounted to £0.90 an hour for a vet.
SAMW president Frank Clark said: “We are also disgusted that FSS, while accepting the case for a review, is pressing ahead with the new charges. This places some plants at risk of closure, due to the fact that the new costs would outstrip profit margins.
‘At risk of closure’
“Despite engaging in emergency talks with FSS officials on this issue, during which we were promised a future charging review, our members are still to have increases of up to 11% in inspection charges imposed on them with immediate effect. This is unacceptable and belies any thought that the promised review is being approached in the correct manner.”
SAMW alleged that its members were first told about the increased charges in May. They were told costs would “remain broadly in line with the previous year”, with a 0.5% rise in total charges, SAMW said.
“In reality, however, the new costs are to be applied to significantly less work than was required in 2016/17,” said Clark.
“According to our calculations, FSS is imposing a 0.5% cost rise for 7% less work, a budget move which we believe is adding more than £400,000 of unjustified cost to members’ businesses.”
The 7% reduction in workload was due to increased operating efficiencies by SAMW members, a reduction in livestock numbers, and the closure of a major poultry processing plant, SAMW claimed.
Rates had to be increased
FSS said hourly rates for veterinarians and meat hygiene inspectors has increased because there were fewer chargeable hours being recorded by the industry. Costs were now being spread over fewer hours, meaning rates had to be increased, FSS added.
It had maintained a subsidy of 30% (£1.3M) in each of the last three years, which slaughterhouses benefitted from, said FSS. It also made changes to rules giving an extra £80,000 to the industry, it added.
FSS director of operations Ian McWatt said: “FSS’s paramount concern is ensuring the food we eat is safe. The official controls work we carry out behind-the-scenes in red meat and poultry plants is required by law to ensure that businesses are producing safe food, as well as ensuring that animal health and welfare are being protected.
“No increase is ever welcome, but we have been working with the industry both to explain the circumstances which have given rise to the change and to encourage them to make changes which could enhance efficiency and therefore reduce their costs through more effective use of FSS’s time.”