Slaughterhouses in the UK could soon face an 8 per cent increase in hygiene inspection charges, under proposals made by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The charges are just the initial increase on the way to a full cost recovery for hygiene inspections at slaughterhouses and cutting plants.
More hikes are in the offing as the FSA continues to reduce the 60 per cent subsidy it estimates it makes to businesses in the current charges for inspections.
The FSA suggests a general increase in charges of 8 per cent would mean a maximum additional charge to a slaughterhouse of £14.14 per 100 cows, £7.35 per 100 pigs, and £2.83 per 100 sheep.
The FSA calculates that government currently subsidises the costs of official hygiene checks at meat premises by about £30m a year, about 60 per cent of the costs of the controls.
The new proposals would increase charges to businesses by approximately £1.5 million in 2008 and 2009.
"The new charges would represent a step towards increasing the level of charges for official controls at approved premises -- slaughterhouses, cutting plants and game plants -- towards full cost recovery while, at the same time, action is being taken by the Meat Hygiene Service to reduce the overall cost of those controls," the FSA stated.
Peter Hewson, the FSA's deputy veterinary director, said the regulator believes the increase is "reasonable", but would like to hear industry's views.
"Any increase in charges to industry will of course go hand in hand with the programme to further reduce costs of the MHS while continuing to provide efficient controls to protect the consumer," he stated.
The move is in line with an EU policy to begin charging industry for food safety regulatory services, a policy which member states are beginning to implement.
The FSA endorsed the principle in July this year that meat hygiene regulation should be aligned more closely with the regulation of the rest of the food chain.
The FSA board also adopted a a more risk and evidence-based approach to regulation, inspection and enforcement.
The changes would require the FSA to work more closely with the European Commission and other member states, to gather evidence as a basis for future changes in the EU approach to meat hygiene regulation.
The FSA's Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), which oversees the sector, will be reorganised to reflect the policy changes. The changes would include an audit and inspection regime, to ensure consumer protection is maintained.
The aim will be to give the MHS more independence from the FSA. The board said it would make a decision on the proposal in the spring of 2008.
The MHS is responsible for regulating about 1,500 slaughterhouses and meat cutting
premises in Great Britain. It is also responsible for overseeing the welfare and health of about 800 million food animals and birds.
The MHS has a annual budget of £33.3m. The MHS is in the process of reorganising to reduce costs, cut waste, and ensure it has greater input into the formulation of policy and legislation.
The deadline for comments on the increased fees is 11 January 2008.