David Morgan's experience on his last day as a technician with the Meat Hygiene Service at Rose County Foods near Clitheroe in Lancashire illustrates the "climate of fear" that permeates the industry, says the public service union Unison.
Two of the Rose County slaughtermen - piece-workers who did not like hygiene staff slowing production to ensure the safety of carcasses as it meant they would get lower pay - confronted Mr Morgan, 40, on his last day, abused him and led him to expect an unwelcome leaving present.
Though he escaped by climbing out of a window, he was pursued by five slaughtermen in a car. They stopped and chased him over the busy A59, caught him, roughed him up and then carried him to their car.
Back at the slaughterhouse, they threw him in a vat of offal including urine, inedible animal parts and blood dyed blue so that it could not enter the human food chain. It was, said local police who handed out a caution, a prank that went wrong. But the tank contained products condemned partly because of the BSE crisis, and Mr Morgan took in mouthfuls as he tried to climb out. Since the incident in January 1998, he has feared that he might have contracted some long-term disease.
Unison contends that Mr Morgan's story is not unique and points to reports of inspectors being locked in freezers, threatened with knives and guns, or beaten up. The offices and property of some had been vandalised.
One inspector complained that meat companies always attempted to increase the speed of production lines and that hygiene service managers failed to give inspectors the support they needed and were "too close" to the meat companies.
Unison, which is seeking a 5 per cent pay increase for the inspectors, argues that its campaign is reinforced by anger over working conditions. More than 1,000 inspectors walked out for 24 hours last Tuesday and the union plans strikes lasting up to three days which could affect supplies to shops.
Johnstone McNeill, chief executive of the Hygiene Service, admits that his managers work closely with meat companies, but said the rate of prosecution shows their independence. The service took a "robust line" over intimidation of staff, he said.Reuse content