Placing unfit poultry meat into the food chain is a matter which the Agency takes very seriously, and it is therefore keen to ensure that consumers receive the appropriate level of protection against such criminal practices. While strict controls already exist for the production of meat, and for the disposal of animal by-products, a tightening of these may be necessary if they are not adequate to prevent such fraudulent activity happening again.
At the same time, the FSA is required to act in a manner proportionate to the risks involved and to take account of all relevant factors. The FSA is therefore seeking views both on what level of action might be proportionate to the risks, and on what the relevant factors might be. They want to obtain comments from all interested parties, including consumers, the industries involved, retailers and enforcement authorities.
Legislation on the disposal and handling of animal by-products
The Animal By-Products Order 1999 (ABPO) is made under the Animal Health Act 1981 and controls animal by-products (carcases or parts of carcases, including blood), not intended for human consumption. It classifies animal by-products into:
Exceptions to the provisions of the ABPO include Specified Risk Material, pet food from butchers and "catering waste" (which includes waste from catering and domestic waste; waste from the production of products not intended for human consumption without further cooking; or waste from the production of bread, cakes etc.)
The ABPO is enforced in premises licensed under the meat hygiene regulations by the Meat Hygiene Service (acting on behalf of MAFF and not the Agency). The meat hygiene regulations include:
The Animal By-Products (Identification) Regulations 1995, as amended, (ABPI), is made under the Food Safety Act 1990. They require the staining (using an indelible black or blue dye) or sterilisation of the equivalent of "high risk" material, from red meat animals, which is produced in licensed slaughterhouses, game processing facilities or animal by-products premises. The ABPI do not apply to "low risk" red meat by-products, or to any poultry by-products, and the staining requirements do not apply to licensed cutting plants or cold stores. The ABPI is enforced at licensed premises by the Meat Hygiene Service, and in other premises by the Local Food Authorities.
It has been suggested that one way to tackle the problem of unfit poultry meat entering the food chain would be to require the staining of unfit poultry meat by-products, as is already the case for "high risk" red meat by-products. The Agency would welcome views on this generally, and, in particular, on the following options:
"High risk" poultry meat by-products would include:
Option 2 - Stain both "high risk" and "low risk" poultry by-products
"Low risk" material is considered to be all other by-products outside the "high risk" category, for example, poultry meat which is bruised. The FSA have been advised by Rotherham Borough Council that the unfit meat involved in the case they investigated involved both "high" and "low risk" by-products.
Option 3: Stain "low risk" red meat by-products
This could be on the grounds that they too were unfit for human consumption and could be fraudulently diverted into the human food chain. "Low risk" by-products are used in the manufacture of pet foods. This would seem to raise the following issues: · Whether pet food containing stained meat would be acceptable to pet owners? If not, pet food manufacturers might switch to imports for their supplies. These supplies would not be required, under the ABPI, to be stained, but would that discriminate against British producers, or open up further risks? · What additional costs might there be for white and red meat producers from the costs of staining, the potential loss of sales income from "low risk" material, and the costs of disposal? · Confusion between the "high risk" and "low risk" materials if both were stained, leading to cross contamination by the former of the latter. This could cause further problems if any contaminated "low risk" material was used for pet food or other purposes; · Practical difficulties in ensuring that all carcasses of unfit poultry meat were thoroughly stained; and · Staining might not prevent future problems if the staining could be removed by removing the stained feathers and skin, and/or trimming the stained top surface, allowing the unfit meat below to be used fraudulently.
The FSA would be grateful for views on these points and any other likely implications.
A further issue is the fact that the staining requirements of the ABPI only apply to licensed slaughterhouses, game processing facilities and animal by-product premises. The Agency would want to consider whether the requirement to stain should be extended to licensed cutting plants and cold stores (this would need to apply to both poultry meat and red meat cutting plants and cold stores to ensure there was a level playing field) and any other premises which produce animal by-products.
The second main issue to be considered is that of enforcement. This covers enforcement of the ABPI regulations, both current and if extended to include poultry by-products. It also covers the enforcement of the ABPO regulations. The FSA would be grateful for views on how satisfactory, or not, the current position is, and on what further action should be taken, and why, for each piece of legislation.
The FSA seek views on all of the points raised in this letter. But they seek views on the following specific questions:
Once the Agency has considered the comments which we receive, they may wish to discuss options further with other interested government departments, and with stakeholder groups. If staining poultry by-products were to be proposed, there would have to be full public consultation on the specific proposals to amend the ABPI regulations, which would give a further opportunity for comments.
As the FSA are only seeking preliminary views to help inform policy options, they would be grateful for comments by 8 June 2001.