The meat industry says recent claims by the Public Service Association (PSA) that in-house meat inspection puts meat inspection at a similar economic risk to Fonterra’s current problems with contaminated milk powder are “exaggerated and incorrect”.
The new meat inspection programme involves meat company staff (trained by AsureQuality) carrying out some non-food safety aspects of meat inspections, known in the industry as ‘suitability aspects’, explains Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Tim Ritchie.
“This has met the approval of the European Union and the United States and is consistent with meat inspection trends in other countries, such as Australia, for companies to take responsibility for non-food safety inspection.”
Official inspectors (from AsureQuality) continue to carry out food safety related functions and provide oversight of the programme. The new meat inspection programme systems will ensure food safety continues. The Ministry for Primary Industries continues to provide independent verification of the entire system to ensure that meat hygiene standards are maintained, says Ritchie.
“The reforms have allowed companies and government to focus on how they can do their respective roles better. The microbiological data from plants that have implemented the new inspection programme is equivalent or even better than under the previous regime. Visual contamination rates have declined in those plants where meat inspection reform has been implemented.”
Ritchie says the MIA understands why the PSA opposes meat inspection reform – because companies are responsible for suitability aspects, some official inspectors are being replaced by trained company inspectors in a number of processing plants.
“However, the PSA claim that this could result in food safety being compromised is false. To reiterate – official inspection at processing plants will continue for food safety – and the new programme allows greater focus on that by official inspectors – and MPI will continue to provide independent verification of the system – what has changed is that in some plants suitability aspects are now done by trained company staff and this does not affect food safety.
“For the PSA to attempt to raise a food safety scare like this damages our excellent reputation for food safety, creates fear in our customers, and hurts the New Zealand meat export industry – and eventually the prosperity of New Zealanders and the jobs of New Zealand meat workers,” says Ritchie.