Proposals to fit surveillance cameras in UK slaughterhouses to combat animal welfare abuses must remain voluntary as violations are relatively rare, said the head of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).
Stephen Rossides, director of the trade body, was responding to report by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) backing the installation of CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras in meat processing premises to curb breaches of animal treatment regulations.
But a suggestion from the safety watchdog that meat processors could come under pressure from retailers to fit the cameras drew an angry response from the BMPA chief, who said it was not the place of the FSA to lobby supermarkets to pressurise their suppliers.
The FSA board is due to consider the report from its own director of operations tomorrow after a number of undercover videos from animal rights activists revealed abuses during the pre-slaughter handling, stunning and sticking stages in slaughterhouses.
The BMPA head agreed that food business operators (FBOs) must have effective procedures in place to monitor slaughter and stunning practices but stressed breaches occurred in a small minority of premises.
“The FSA’s own survey indicates that 94 per cent of premises meet or exceed animal welfare standards,” he told FoodProductionDaily.com. “Any breaches of welfare legislation are not acceptable, but let’s get the scale of the problem into perspective.”
He welcomed the fact that the FSA had “backed away from advocating compulsory CCTV installation”, which he described as “an entirely disproportionate regulatory response”. The trade association head said the decision to fit CCTV must be left to individual companies.
Rossides, however, blasted the FSA for saying that retail sector pressure could force meat companies to introduce cameras despite the fact that there is no legal obligation to do so.
“I am very unhappy with the suggestion that retailers might or should put pressure on their suppliers to install CCTV,” he said. “For already welfare-compliant operators, this would be tantamount to back door quasi-compulsory regulation. For compliant FBOs who do not choose to use CCTV it would be a disproportionate measure, and would merely add cost. It is not the FSA’s role to lobby retailers to put these pressures on their suppliers. “
He said the FSA report was right to raise a number of practical questions about how CCTV footage would be used. The FSA said issues such as how the film is monitored, who has access to it and how long it is kept must be addressed.
Lack of industry support
In the report the food agency said that “industry generally does not support” the introduction of CCTV, with the sector arguing that scrutiny by regulators should be sufficient. The agency countered by declaring that FBOs were responsible for ensuring compliance.
The agency warned that if the industry was unable to stop animal welfare breaches and refused to fit cameras, it would station extra inspection staff in premises and charge FBOs until “compliance could be satisfactorily demonstrated”.