Review of meat controls
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is reviewing the current system of meat hygiene inspection in slaughterhouses. Meat controls are currently based on a traditional inspection approach developed more than 100 years ago to tackle the public health concerns of that era, such as parasites and defects visible to the naked eye. Today, the main cause of foodborne disease is microbiological.
Microbiological threats – the bacteria campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli, for example – cannot be adequately tackled using traditional inspection methods.
About the review
In September 2009, the FSA Board endorsed a programme of work that outlined the future steps that will be taken to deliver an enhanced system of official controls on meat. More information about these steps can be found in the FSA Board paper at the link towards the end of this page.
The review aims to improve public health protection while delivering a more risk-based, effective and proportionate system for official controls on meat. A new inspection regime will take account of animal health and welfare considerations.
Official controls on meat are prescribed by directly applicable European legislation. Any changes to controls will therefore have to be negotiated with other EU Member States and the European Parliament. Because this is a lengthy process, there is unlikely to be any change to the meat hygiene controls until at least 2014.
Modernising meat hygiene inspection is a strategic priority for the Agency. The Agency’s Strategy to 2015 can be found at the link towards the end of this page.
Building the evidence
The Agency is funding research in order to gather the evidence necessary to support a case for change. In November 2009, the Agency put out to tender several pieces of research to examine certain assumptions on which the current system of meat official controls is based. This work was completed by June 2011 – please see below for further information and links to the published reports.
A second tranche of research was put out to tender in February 2011. It included: an evaluation of food chain information and collection and communication of inspection results for all species; a trial of visual inspection of outdoor pigs; a qualitative risk assessment of visual inspection of red meat species and farmed/wild large game; and a trial of plant inspection assistants performing post-mortem inspection in approved game handling establishments. Social science research will also be commissioned as part of this tranche.
The outcomes of the Agency’s research are being used to inform the work the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is undertaking in this area (to find out more about this work, please see the ‘Work across Europe’ section further down the page).
More information about the research calls can be found at the link below.
Our first tranche of research into the modernisation of meat controls is composed of the following five projects:
Review of historical ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection data
The objective of this research is to determine the critical and optimum data for cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep, goats and game species that should be collected to monitor current and most relevant public health, animal health and welfare conditions.
Comparison of post-mortem inspection findings of outdoor and indoor fattening pigs: a qualitative risk assessment approach
The objective of this research is to examine the risks to public health, animal health and animal welfare posed by visual inspection of outdoor pigs in relation to visual inspection of indoor pigs.
Outcomes and value of current ante-mortem and post-mortem meat inspection tasks, and qualitative assessment of the benefit to public and animal health of post-mortem inspection of green offal in red meat
The objectives of this research are:
- to establish the effectiveness of inspection tasks as described in Regulation (EC) 854/2004 in dealing with a range of significant hazards
- to assess the risk of removing or amending the requirement for green offal inspection for red meat animal species
Assessment of the risk of official veterinarians (OVs) not being present when plant inspection assistants (PIAs) carry out post-mortem poultry inspection
The objective of this research is to assess the risk to public health, animal health and animal welfare of amending the requirement that OVs must be present when PIAs carry out post-mortem poultry inspection.
Assessment of the risk of an official auxiliary (rather than an official veterinarian) performing ante-mortem inspections for poultry and young/prime red meat species
The objective of this research is to assess the risk to public health, animal health and animal welfare of Official Auxiliaries undertaking ante-mortem inspection duties for poultry and young/prime red meat species.
More information about the research and its findings can be found at the link below.
During 2010, the Agency organised a series of 'Citizens’ Forums' with consumers to ask for their views on current and future meat hygiene controls. These took place in Aberdeen, Belfast, Cardiff, London and York. It was found that:
- consumers expect themselves, retailers and food outlets to monitor safety in the first instance, and have little awareness of the current system of controls
- on being told more about the current system of controls, consumers were reassured by what they learnt
- consumers also welcomed the principle of shifting the responsibility for compliance further onto the industry to improve standards
- there was initial scepticism about potential changes, though there was a range of views on the options tested and some participants were more in favour of reform than others
More information about the Citizens’ Forums can be found at the link below.
Work across Europe
In July 2009, the European Commission's published a report on the experience gained from the implementation of the hygiene regulations in 2006. The report stated that the overall experience of the food hygiene package was positive and that there was no need for a fundamental overhaul.
Subsequently, the Council of the EU adopted the Commission conclusions on the report and invited the Commission to prepare concrete proposals allowing the effective implementation of modernised sanitary inspection in slaughterhouses. Two letters providing information about the Commission’s conclusions were sent to stakeholders. These can be found at the links towards the end of this page.
The European Commission started discussions in 2010 on potential changes to the system of meat controls. Three round-table meetings have been held with Member States, European stakeholders and international trading partners.
In May 2010, the Commission issued a mandate to EFSA to carry out risk assessments on current meat controls and to request technical assistance to define alternative approaches to inspection. EFSA’s work has been prioritised by species and its scientific advice (this advice is also known as opinions) on pig inspection was published in October 2011. Further opinions are expected in mid-2012 for poultry and mid-2013 for the remainder of the work. More information about the EFSA mandate and its opinion on pig inspection can be found at the link below.
Discussions with Member States and European stakeholders are being held are being held throughout 2012 in preparation for the Commission’s legislative proposals, which are expected in the summer of 2012.
Current and Future Meat Controls Stakeholder Group (CFMC)
The CFMC is the core group of key meat stakeholders whose main purpose is to inform the Agency's work in developing proposals for more risk-based and proportionate meat hygiene.
The Agency regularly seeks the views of the CFMC in relation to the modernisation of meat controls and updates stakeholders on the progress of the future meat controls programme.
More information about the group and its discussions can be found at the link below.