The food industry is drowning in legislation that is, so we’re told, to protect us – the consumers. That’s very fine and wonderful and I’m all in favour of protecting our vital food chain, but in my opinion, this latest stroke of ‘genius’ is unmitigated madness.
Instead of protecting us, this new ruling could lead to diseased meat entering the food chain. Previously, pig carcasses were cut open after slaughter to check for any signs of disease. Now, with this new Europeanlegislation, the carcasses remain whole and are just visually given the once-over.
Why? Well, according to the FSA, this is to avoid cross contamination and the spread of harmful bacteria. So take your pick. Which would you prefer? Bacteria such as E. coli or campylobacter which are killed if the meat is properly cooked, or some tender, tasty abscesses or tubercular lesions in your sausages?
If you read my blog about the ‘Pig Idea’, you’ll know we continue to throw away millions of tonnes of food which could be used as feed. So on one hand, we’re told feeding waste food to pigs risks a reoccurrence of foot and mouth disease. But on the other, it seems it’s perfectly acceptable to use diseased meat in sausages, pies and other processed meat products.
So what is this new legislation all about? It came into being on 1 June 2014 and was drawn up by the European Food Safety Authority. Europe again, eh? Actually, for once we can’t put the blame entirely on the heads of the Brussels’ bureaucrats. They took their advice from the FSA – our very own UK government department. Yet many of the FSA’s 1,100 meat inspectors are against this move. No surprises there.
Some 8 million pigs a year are slaughtered here in the UK. According to Ron Spellman, an experienced British meat inspector and director general of the European Working community for Food inspectors and Consumer protection (EWFC), around 37 thousand pigs’ heads last year were found to contain abscesses or tuberculosis lesions. These cannot be seen until the carcass is opened. A cursory glance is not enough. Remember, meat from a pig’s head is used in the production of sausages and other processed meats.
This is yet another case of a rule for us and a rule for them. Because this legislation will only apply to meat slaughtered for consumption here in the UK. Pigs slaughtered for export will continue to comply with that country’s agreed methods. For example, the carcasses of pigs sold to Asian countries must still be opened and inspected.
So how exactly does this work? There is as much risk of contamination by ‘harmful bacteria’ in meat destined for the export market. According to BPEX, the UK’s pork exports (to date in 2014) amount to nearly 84,000 tonnes. That’s about a million pigs! So all the bacteria from an eighth of the pigs slaughtered here in the UK are still flying around the abattoirs. How is that contained exactly? How does that protect us from cross contamination? Is the bacteria from those pigs miraculously benign?
But hang on, perhaps the FSA could change the law again! How about banning abattoirs from processing meat for both the UK and export markets? That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it? Never mind that it would result in the loss of even more abattoirs (and jobs) here in the UK.
About 40 years ago, the UK had around 1,300 abattoirs but now there are less than 300. But what the heck. What do few more businesses going under matter? As long as we don’t get E-coli from not cooking our sausages properly, it’ll be fine. Don’t worry about the food miles issues and our standards of animal welfare, either.
It’s time to stop this madness! Right now. At this rate, the UK is going to be a laughing stock, if we’re not already.
Yes, take sensible precautions to protect our food chain – that’s essential. But why doesn’t the FSA recognise the need to look at the industry as a whole – not just try a quick fix on bits here and there. What they’re doing is like sticking a plaster on a broken leg and quite frankly, it ain’t working!