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Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Food safety is the priority for Scots

Scots want slaughter houses to be independently inspected by government meat safety inspectors, not handed over to the industry to regulate themselves.

UNISON has commissioned independent pollsters Ispos MORI to find out what people living in Scotland think about how we ensure the food we eat is safe. This follows a number of food scandals and the news that 73% of chickens in the UK tested positive for the presence of the campylobacter, the most common source of food poisoning.

The report shows that almost all Scots (98%) believe that official slaughter houses should be inspected to ensure they are meeting food safety and quality standards; the vast majority of Scots (95%) believe that slaughterhouses should continue to operate to official standards; three quarters of Scots also believe slaughterhouses should be inspected independently (75%), and majority of Scots (70%) also agree that standards are more likely to be met if they are carried out by government inspectors.

So that is very clear. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming view is that independent inspection is a very good thing. Sadly, governments and the meat industry are running with a different agenda. There is continued pressure from Europe to de-regulate meat inspection with the active support of the UK Government and the Food Standards Agency. The Scottish Government went along with cutting safety standards recently when they approved the visual only inspection of pigs. This means tumours and abscesses will be minced into the sausages and pies we eat. The meat industry lobby has clearly been busy in Scotland as well!

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, said the FSA had been ‘captured’ by industry interests. "This is a sad day for British food policy. A quarter of a century after the British learned of the extent of contamination of poultry, we are back again with unacceptable levels of food-borne pathogens. Then, it was salmonella. Now, it’s campylobacter."

This month meat inspectors have been transferred into a new Scottish Government Agency, Food Standards Scotland. During the horsemeat scandal Scottish Ministers were able to blame 'Westminster', even though the regulations on food safety are devolved. Now the physical inspection is managed by a devolved institution as well.

Meat inspectors deal with the food processing stage, but we rely on council environment health officers to inspect retail food operations. As a consequence of council cuts they are now thin on the ground and sampling and inspections have also been slashed

So, this report is a timely reminder to the Scottish Government that food safety is a priority for Scots. Scots believe the meat trade should be independently inspected and regulated, and they think that meat inspection should be carried out by government inspectors. This is too important to get wrong. We have been concerned about the lighter touch regulation which has been promoted across UK and EU meat trades. The Scottish Government’s new agency Food Standards Scotland must ensure we maintain a strong, well regulated, independent meat inspection regime.


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