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UK Will Publish Meat Plant Audits

British meat-packing plants deemed to be a “cause for concern” will be named publicly under a policy adopted this month by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is responsible for inspecting food processing in the UK.

The decision to publish audit reports on the agency website is designed to eliminate the public mystery surrounding audits of British processing plants.

But the move promptly drew criticism from food processors, according to Meat Trade News Daily, a British trade publication. The publication quoted unnamed industry sources complaining that the audit documents are “impenetrable and misleading.”

They responded to an agency announcement that it would begin regular publication of audit reports from inspections of meat plants in England, Scotland and Wales, all as part of a new commitment to public “transparency.”

In making its announcement, the FSA published 200 audit reports dating back to November 1 last year, and promised to publish more by the end of the month. 

About 1,200 FSA-approved slaughterhouses and other meat processors operate in Great Britain, and 60 more in Northern Ireland.

The agency’s aim is to publish audits from around the UK, but only after reviewing the documents to make them understandable to interested people from outside the industry.

Processors with poor audit scores will be considered a “cause for concern,” the FSA said in its announcement.  “These establishments must put in place improvements to ensure required standards are met,” the agency said.

“We think it’s important that people have access to this type of information,” said Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA.  “It shows not only the commitment to publishing all useful information, but we hope publication will also help businesses to maintain high standards in this vital food sector.”

The agency will not post audit results until after a 28-day appeal period and after other issues are resolved.

In the United States, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does not make a searchable plant-by-plant report available, as many food safety advocates would like it to do, but it is not impossible to obtain similar, individual audit reports from the estimated 6,500 meat-processing plants in the United States. 

With inspectors in those plants each and every day, FSIS produces mounds of public information. While its “Enforcement Report” is published quarterly and not monthly,  it does include useful information, including naming specific plants that are in trouble.

With 19 tables, an FSIS Enforcement Report is written in inverted-pyramid style. The first tables are largely statistical, then the report evolves to naming names. For example, Table 6b lists companies that have received “Prohibited Activity Notices.”  

Table 8 listing administrative actions against large plants names specific companies and Tables 9 and 10 provide the same information for small plants and very small plants, respectively.

Companies that get a Notice of Ineligibility (NOI) are reported on Table 13.  Civil injunctions, usually issued by federal courts, are found in Table 15.  Criminal actions, including recent sentences and plea agreements are found in Table 17.

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