Food Law News - UK - 2000

24 January 2000: MEAT HYGIENE - Consultation on Licensing of Packaged Meat Cold Stores

JFSSG Letter, 24 January 2000

Consultation on Licensing of Packaged Meat Cold Stores

The letter seeks views on proposals to require all packaged meat cold stores to be licensed or approved under the following regulations:

The following paragraphs are taken from the main consultation document

Consultation on Licensing of Packaged Meat Cold Stores

Purpose of this document

1. The purpose of this document is to consult interested parties, in accordance with section 48(4) of the Food Safety Act 1990 on a proposed change to the requirements for licensing of packaged fresh meat cold stores and standalone meat products cold stores under the following British (GB) Regulations:

2. New requirements, if introduced, would be implemented in England by means of an amendment to the above regulations (see Annex B). Separate legislation would be required in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and it is anticipated that the relevant authorities will be consulting on this issue shortly.


3. The meat hygiene Directives apply specific controls and the need for licensing approval and supervision throughout the production chain, including fresh meat and meat products cold stores, but excluding the level supplying the final consumer, i.e. typically excluding restaurants, shops, etc.. However in 1995, in anticipation of a change to the Fresh Meat Directive (which, in the event, did not occur) a decision was taken not to supervise or licence packaged meat cold stores, and they have been exempted from the GB Meat Hygiene regulations although some cold stores have chosen to be licensed voluntarily for export purposes. The remainder are controlled under general risk-based food hygiene legislation. Two EU inspection missions to the UK have noted this breach of Community legislation and infraction proceedings have been recommended.

4. All cold stores, other than those supplying the final consumer, are therefore covered by the Directives and should be licensed or approved in accordance with them. These requirements apply to specialist wholesale meat warehouses as well as to premises such as distribution depots or 'cash and carry' warehouses storing a wide variety of foodstuffs which may be packaged for delivery to the final consumer. As with other licensed or approved premises, cold stores are required to meet certain structural requirements although Member States may relax these requirements for 'low capacity' cold stores storing packaged fresh meat or for non-industrial packaged meat products cold stores.

5. In terms of public health protection, although packaged meat and meat products are, by definition, protected from contamination within the cold store, properly maintained temperature controls and appropriate handling procedures are critical factors. The Commission also considers that the current situation is unsatisfactory on traceability grounds. This is because EC-health-marked meat and products could be either exported from such premises directly, or re-enter licensed/approved premises and be incorporated into EC health marked product, despite having left the supervised licensed/approved chain. The absence of official veterinary supervision and record checking could make it easier for fraud, or other wrongdoing, to occur. Indeed it was fraud at cutting plants and cold stores, blamed by the Commission on insufficient supervision, which resulted in the UK facing infraction proceedings on veterinary supervision.

6. At present, while standalone packaged meat products cold stores (i.e. those not part of licenced fresh meat or approved meat products premises) are exempt from the Meat Products Regulations, standalone unpackaged products cold stores are subject to local authority approval and supervision. Further study of the amended Meat Products Directive 77/99/EEC (Article 3A paragraph 8) however, indicates that standalone meat product cold stores should be approved and inspected in accordance with Directive 64/433/EEC. Under GB Regulations this means that they should all be licensed, not approved, and should therefore meet licensing requirements and be subject to MHS supervision and liable to pay MHS charges. If this requirement is to be implemented, not only should previously exempt standalone packaged meat product cold stores be licensed, but so should any currently approved standalone unpackaged meat product cold stores.

7. At a time when the regulatory burden on the livestock sector is under review, a proposal to license packaged meat cold stores and its accompanying requirement for some veterinary supervision may be seen as introducing an unnecessary layer of regulation. However, the current situation is illegal under EU law and the Commission has threatened to take legal proceedings against the UK Government. Although inappropriate handling and storage of packaged meat in cold stores can pose a potential threat to public health; the primary concern is one of traceability because the meat is regarded as passing out of the hygiene control arrangements. The recent Belgian animal feed scandal has raised the profile of traceability within the food chain very considerably. In this new climate it is particularly appropriate that this licensing issue should be revisited.


8. If the current exemptions for packaged fresh meat cold stores from licensing were to be retained, it would undoubtedly result in infraction proceedings being taken by the EC Commission against the UK under Article 226. Such legal action could lead to media attention which might damage consumer confidence in the thoroughness of British controls over meat within the supply chain. It is therefore proposed that these exemptions should be removed and that standalone packaged and unpackaged meat products cold stores should be licensed.

9. Compulsory licensing of packaged fresh meat cold stores and standalone meat products cold stores not supplying the final consumer in Great Britain would ensure that the EU requirements are complied with, but would require affected premises to meet structural requirements before being licensed and once licensed, to be supervised. Government resources would need to be found to carry out pre-licensing inspections, issue licenses and retain veterinary surgeons to supervise the premises.

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