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Lord Donoughue: The occupier of a slaughterhouse is responsible for ensuring that all SRM is removed from a carcass before it is presented for inspection. Failure to do so is an offence under the Specified Risk Material Regulations 1997, for which it is the Government's policy to bring a prosecution in any case in which the evidence is considered sufficient and it is in the public interest so to do. This policy would not be affected by the introduction of charges for the SRM controls, which for this financial year continue to be government-funded.
Lord Donoughue: The Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995 and the Poultry Meat, Farmed Game Bird Meat and Rabbit Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995 require the occupier of a licensed slaughterhouse to ensure that the official veterinary surgeon and meat hygiene inspector are given such reasonable assistance and access to records as they may from time to time require in order to carry out their duties under those regulations. This may involve allowing the officials concerned access to the part of the premises where the records are kept.
Lord Donoughue: The time spent by official veterinary surgeons compiling monthly hygiene assessment system (HAS) scores in licensed slaughterhouses and cutting plants is charged to plant operators as HAS is an integral part of OVS supervision and inspection in such premises and is therefore directly related to the enforcement of the statutory provisions of the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995 at those premises.
What safeguards exist to prevent Meat Hygiene Service staff employed in enforcement duties in meat plants from failing to distinguish between works or actions which are statutory requirements and those which are non-statutory requirements, when requiring
Lord Donoughue: Chapter 18 of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) Operations Manual provides MHS staff with detailed instructions as to their enforcement responsibilities. It makes a clear distinction between statutory and non-statutory requirements.
To ensure that enforcement action is appropriate, reasonable and proportionate, principal official veterinary surgeons (POVSs) acting as circuit supervisors routinely visit plant-based MHS staff to assist them in their enforcement activities.
Should a plant owner or operator believe that inappropriate enforcement action has been taken by MHS staff, they are at liberty to take the matter up with either the POVS, or the MHS regional management team in accordance with MHS complaints and appeals procedures.
Lord Donoughue: No. However, the Government are aware that some studies have shown that some meat inspection procedures increase the risk of contamination. The Government are therefore supportive of initiatives, at Community level, for making post-mortem inspection procedures more risk-based.
Lord Donoughue: None. However, the development of the Meat Hygiene Service Clean Livestock Policy was based on research which demonstrated a clear link between fleeces and hides contaminated with dung and the microbial load of dressed carcasses (e.g. research by Hadley, Holder and Hinton, Effects of fleece soiling and skinning methods on the microbiology of sheep carcasses, Veterinary Record, 31 May 1997).
Lord Donoughue: None. It is not possible to identify E.coli 0157 bacteria by the organoleptic post-mortem inspection carried out by official veterinary surgeons and meat hygiene inspectors, as laid down in EU meat hygiene rules.
Lord Donoughue: The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, when initiating prosecutions, acts in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, and will consider both whether there is sufficient evidence and whether it is in the public interest for the prosecution to be taken. Part of that consideration necessarily includes any defences or mitigation that the prospective defendant might advance, including instructions or advice given by officials.