The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is going ahead with plans to stop discounted enforcement prices in the meat industry despite strong opposition during a comment period.

The consultation covered the proposal to remove discounts on charges for enforcement activity so non-compliant businesses that generate more work no longer benefit from discounts.

Of 16 responses in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, four agreed with the plans, three were neutral and nine were against them.  

The FSA’s decision means charges will be invoiced without discount beginning March 27, 2023. Hourly rates for enforcement activity have yet to be set for 2023 to 2024. For 2022 to 2023, the official veterinarian rate is £53.30 ($63.10) and £36.20 ($42.90) for meat hygiene inspectors.

“It is simply not appropriate that the general taxpayer provides a subsidy to non-compliant businesses for the chargeable elements of the enforcement process, such as writing and serving a letter about non-compliance,” said the FSA. 

Accidental cases or isolated mistakes
The British Poultry Council agreed with removing discounts associated with enforcement where it is proportionate.  

“Where breaches of regulations are willful and/or persistent, or of a very serious nature, then fully agree. However, when breaches occur which are accidental and/or unforeseen, especially where systems or practices are introduced to address the cause and prevent reoccurrence, the food business operator should not be penalized.”

Dunbia, a meat processor, said removing the discount raises the potential of enforcement becoming, a “revenue generator” and shifting direction from proportionate to a black-and-white approach. 

Where a business has a detailed food safety management system in place, training programs for all staff equal with their tasks, external audits such as BRC or Red Tractor, numerous customer retailer audits that are announced and unannounced, that confirm good systems are in operation, together with an FSA audit ranking of generally satisfactory or good, then it appears to be very unfair and disproportionate to seek to financially penalize them if a staff member does something wrong. At that point, the business has clearly spent considerable time, effort, resources, and expense on facilities and training said company officials.

Meat sector concerns
National Craft Butchers said no one wants to see non-compliant businesses benefit unfairly but it was more likely that vulnerable small firms would suffer “unfair and incorrect enforcement action from over-bearing and inconsistent officials.”

“We have also heard from several members that OV’s have told them they have been instructed by their employer to deliberately find and report minor non-compliances. This attitude fosters a climate of distrust and also leads to plant staff feeling they are being harassed,” said the group.

“There is no obvious distinction between where regular controls cease and enforcement activity begins. It is especially difficult for smaller businesses to manage these situations. Enforcement activity could last for several hours resulting in a charge of hundreds or even thousands of pounds that would have a very disproportionate impact on smaller businesses.”

NCB also said FSA senior management does not appear to have sufficient control to prevent “inappropriate or unnecessary” enforcement action, citing the forced abattoir closure of one of its members in North West England a few months ago.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) said it disagreed as the charges levied by FSA are unlawful.

“The agency should not seek to impose an additional levy on slaughterhouses and cutting plants for its staff costs when carrying out enforcement that is not imposed on any other sector of the food industry and for which there is no legal base.”

The group said the disagreement was not because non-compliant food businesses should benefit from the same support as compliant ones.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said the FSA should only charge what is legal, adding the group’s position is the agency shouldn’t be charging at all. BMPA also asked why the meat industry pays but other sectors do not.

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