FSA Press Release (0734), 8 October 2008
A copy of the report is available on this site. See: Final report: Optimisation of MHS resources in slaughterhouses
A joint working group representing the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) and the meat industry has issued its final report on efficient deployment of MHS resources in abattoirs.
The Optimisation Report contains a number of recommendations to improve the working methods of both MHS and Food Business Operators (FBOs). The recommendations also include a number of areas where changes to policy can also improve the utilisation of MHS resources. The full report has been published on the FSA website and action plans have been drawn up to focus on how to implement these improvements in practice.
The Optimisation Team visited nineteen slaughterhouses in Great Britain to analyse the reasons behind variations in the deployment of MHS resources. The team's study concluded that there could be more efficient use of MHS staff across many sites and this would be achieved by improvements in working practices of either MHS, the individual FBO, a combination of both or changes to the policy of the FSA and the respective rural affairs departments across UK.
The legal requirement relating to animal identification was considered to be the area where most improvements could be made. The team found that the level of checking required by the MHS duplicate checks also carried out by the FBOs. However, it was emphasised that this is a policy matter that fell under the remit of the rural affairs departments and directorate across the four UK countries. In the report's conclusion, the team said: ‘The duplication of these checks by MHS may have the effect of confusing lines of responsibility'. As the checking system is currently under review, the report indicated that this work should be ‘given priority'.
Another area where improvement opportunities were identified was the working patterns of an individual slaughterhouse. The report said that FBOs that ‘work short days or have an erratic working pattern present particular difficulties for MHS to provide official controls efficiently'. While there was recognition that there was an element of unpredictability due to market fluctuations, the team felt that FBOs had to take ‘a commercial decision' between achieving ‘a relatively constant demand for inspection resources' or ‘to operate in a more flexible manner and to accept additional costs'. The FSA is intending to consult on time-based charging in the near future which it is expected will also, if it is agreed with stakeholders, may result in a more efficient use of MHS resources.
The report also highlighted the under-utilisation of MHS inspection resources that was a consequence of slaughterline layout and equipment. The team found that changes to the physical layout of the slaughterline could result in opportunities to make significant efficiency savings.
IT issues were identified as a way in which practices could be improved. Most slaughterhouse FBOs had IT systems to support their businesses and there was further potential for all parties to exchange information through IT. In large slaughterhouses with fast lines, ‘accurate and efficient capture of inspection findings' could be achieved through greater use of IT.
Kenneth Clarke, FSA Veterinary Adviser, co-authored the report:
'This report has provided a very useful insight into working practices within the industry. We have seen many examples where joint working can result in significant efficiencies and this has to be good news for everyone.
'We are confident that this should be the basis of cooperation between the regulator and the industry. Now that we have carried out this work, we must look forward to working together to make these efficiencies a reality.'
Jane Downes, Veterinary and Technical Director, MHS, said:
'The Optimisation Project has been a very worthwhile exercise which has helped build trust between the MHS, FBOs and meat industry representatives, and a shared understanding of regulatory and commercial pressures.
The MHS will take the report into account during the forthcoming discussions between FBOs and MHS Business Managers in rolling out new Business Agreements. I am looking forward to chairing the joint Project Board which will oversee the delivery of all the report's recommendations, whether addressed to MHS, FSA, Defra or industry.'
Stuart Roberts, Director, British Meat Processors Association, said:
'When I spoke to the FSA board earlier this year I highlighted the importance the industry places on the work of the optimisation team and I am very pleased to see that they have highlighted a number of areas where MHS resources can be more efficiently utilised. The report has shown us that as well as the MHS the industry, FSA and rural affairs departments must all do their bit to develop true efficiency in the delivery of meat hygiene controls.'
"I am very grateful to the Optimisation Team for their hard work. It is now vital that all the relevant parties take forward the recommendations in this report in partnership and with a high level of energy and determination.'