Letter: Abattoirs already faced the chop

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The Independent Online
Sir: There are a number of misleading statements in Richard North's article "Officials take their pound of flesh" (22 April).

There is a view in the industry that British slaughterhouse closures are not due to Government regulation. The Meat and Livestock Commission has published a report demonstrating that the number of slaughterhouses has been falling for over 20 years due to economic forces and, in its view, needs to fall further because of continuing overcapacity in the industry. My department does not have a hidden agenda to close smaller slaughterhouses. Indeed, we have recently introduced a number of less onerous requirements for them.

The £32m quoted as the cost of inspection was the cost before single market rules were extended in 1993 to all slaughterhouses and other premises. Prior to 1993, EC rules required veterinary supervision only in exporting premises; from 1993, it has been required in all premises. This change was bound to increase the total cost, even though the total number of slaughterhouses dropped between 1990 and 1994.

The estimated 1995/96 MHS charge to industry is not £54m, as Mr North suggests, but around £40m - some 10 per cent less than the estimated cost (£45m) of the local authority regime. This includes start-up costs which are being funded by central government.

The main representative industry bodies have long argued for a single body involved with meat hygiene and inspection. The MHS is not creating "jobs for the boys". Its HQ staff of 29 have mainly been employed from outside Maff, and the majority of other staff were transferred with the work from local authorities. Already,s numbers are less than last year, and further reductions are expected through economies of scale made possible in a single organisation, as against the 300 or so local authorities previously responsible for this work.

Yours faithfully,

ANGELA BROWNING

Parliamentary Secretary (Commons)

Ministry of Agriculture,

Fisheries and Food

London, SW1

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