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The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: With the exception of three hours of lecture on meat science, the rest of the Official Veterinary Surgeon course, comprising 48 hours' theory and 56 hours' practical training is based on the Operations Manual.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Donoughue: The precise arrangements will be a matter for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board once it has been appointed. It is envisaged, however, that the board of the FSA will establish a sub-committee

6 Jul 1999 : Column WA94

with external members to supervise the MHS. Under this arrangement, those responsible in the FSA for the audit of the MHS would report direct to the sub-committee. In addition, the State Veterinary Service of MAFF (SRM controls), the National Audit Office (finance and accounts), the British Standards Institution (quality standards) and inspectors of the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office (implementation of Community law) will all continue their independent audits of those elements of the MHS activities in which they have an interest.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a Meat Hygiene inspector who soils an area of a slaughterhouse by accidental spillage of ink used for official health marks should be required to clean up the mess himself, or whether the slaughterhouse owner or his staff are required to do so.[HL3014]

Lord Donoughue: Schedule 7 to the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, as amended, specifies that it is the responsibility of the occupier to keep their premises in such a state of cleanliness so as to prevent the risk of contamination of any fresh meat in those premises, or in the case of slaughterhouses, of any blood intended for human consumption.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many Meat Hygiene Service staff are employed to investigate the trade in unfit meat; and [HL3207]

    How many staff are employed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to investigate the trade in unfit meat.[HL3208]

Lord Donoughue: The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) is responsible for enforcing a range of meat hygiene legislation and BSE controls in licensed fresh meat premises in Great Britain on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. MHS staff working in these premises have a role to play in ensuring that only fit meat is traded for human consumption. Numbers of staff employed by the MHS are published in its annual report and accounts.

The Veterinary Public Health Unit of the Joint Food Safety and Standards Group in England (and the State Veterinary Service in Scotland and in Wales) is responsible for co-ordinating and referring allegations of illegal activity in respect of the Fresh Meat, Poultry Meat and Wild Game Meat Regulations to MAFF's Investigation Branch. There are 10 Veterinary Meat Hygiene Advisers involved in this work.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food employs 20 Investigation Officers to investigate potential criminal offences under legislation (including meat hygiene legislation) for which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is the responsible enforcement authority.

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The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to introduce a "fast-track" system of meat inspection in the United Kingdom; and, if not, what would be the obstacles to the introduction of such a system.[HL3210]

Lord Donoughue: Meat inspection is required to be carried out in accordance with the detailed requirements laid down in the EU meat hygiene directives. The Government would support proposals to amend those directives to allow more risk-based inspection procedures providing at least equivalent safeguards for public health.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the procurement of a single microbiological test per week in abattoirs with a throughput of over 1,000 animals a week is sufficient to detect the presence of E.coli 0157 in these plants.[HL3211]

Lord Donoughue: No.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether all meat and meat products (including poultry products) imported into the United Kingdom meet the same hygiene standards as those which apply to United Kingdom meat and meat products, particularly in relation to imports from the People's Republic of China and other Far East countries.[HL3225]

Lord Donoughue: All consignments of fresh meat and meat products, including poultry products, imported into the UK, whether from other EU member states or third countries, must have been produced in accordance with the harmonised Community rules laid down in various Council Directives and Commission Decisions. Among other things, these Directives and Decisions set out the licensing, structural and veterinary supervision requirements to be applied in production plants. Production premises in third countries, including those in the Far East, have to comply with standards at least equivalent to those which apply to producers in the EU before imports of meat or meat products from them are permitted.

The European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office carries out regular programmes of inspection visits to EU Member States and to the third countries from which fresh meat and meat products are imported into the Community.

All consignments of fresh meat and meat products imported from third countries are subject to veterinary inspection on entering the EU to ensure that conditions of import have been complied with and that they have remained in a satisfactory condition during transport.

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The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Association of Meat Inspectors carried out a survey of carcass condemnations during 1994-95; and whether this indicated a growing problem of tuberculosis lesions in adult bovines.[HL3228]

Lord Donoughue: Yes, a survey was carried out in 1994. It provided information over a short time period at a limited number of slaughterhouses. No conclusions regarding the prevalence of tuberculosis could be made, as the results were not directly comparable with other available statistics.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Donoughue on 16 June (WA 28), why the Meat Hygiene Service operations manual refers to the monthly hygiene assessment made by an Official Veterinary Surgeon under the "Enforcement" section, and instructs Official Veterinary Surgeons to write to plant operators to confirm the nature of deficiencies found and the action required to correct them, given that the Hygiene Assessment Scheme (HAS) monitors the hygiene of licensed slaughterhouse and cutting plant operations, it does not assess their compliance with statutory or non-statutory requirements.[HL3250]

Lord Donoughue: Official Veterinary Surgeons monitor the hygiene of operation of licensed premises by means of the Hygiene Assessment System (HAS). Hygiene conditions which result in the award of "c" and "d" HAS scores indicate contraventions of the regulations. Thus HAS can be used as a check to ensure appropriate enforcement action has been taken.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Donoughue on 16 June (WA 28), by what authority Official Veterinary Surgeons carry out hygiene assessments under the Hygiene Assessment Scheme (HAS) if the HAS does not assess the compliance of licensed slaughterhouse owners or operators with statutory or non-statutory requirements and only authority vested in Official Veterinary Surgeons is related specifically to enforcement of the Fresh Meat Directive 91/497/EEC and the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995; in neither of which is there any reference to HAS.[HL3252]

Lord Donoughue: HAS scores are compiled by an Official Veterinary Surgeon (OVS) from observations made while carrying out the duties detailed in Regulation 8 of the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995, as amended. It also provides the OVS with a structured means of fulfilling his/her duties under Council Directive 64/433/EEC Article 10.4 regularly to analyse the results of the operators' checks, which must be carried out on the general hygiene of conditions of production in an establishment.

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The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Donoughue on 16 June (WA 28), what provision is made for appeals by operators of licensed slaughterhouse or cutting plants as to their Hygiene Assessment Scheme scores if they believe that an appeal to the Meat Hygiene Service has not been properly or fairly determined; whether the current system for appeals is both independent and impartial when the Meat Hygiene Service is the employer of the assessors; and whether arrangements can be made for a review of the scores by an assessor not employed by the Meat Hygiene Service.[HL3253]

Lord Donoughue: Appeals by operators against HAS scores are considered by the Principal Official Veterinary Surgeon. If plant operators are unable to accept the decision of the POVS, they may make use of the MHS formal appeals procedure. The MHS believes its review procedures are carried out fairly and if an issue of fact arises the outcome will be based on physical evidence. If the issue relates to the interpretation of HAS guidance, it may be submitted to the HAS Panel of Government veterinarians, chaired by a Veterinary Advisor of the Joint Food Safety and Standards Group.


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