It's something the industry has sought for some time and the FSA is now in the early stages of the process. It is keen to talk to stakeholders from the outset, which is a very welcome approach - perhaps this could provide a lesson for Defra and its agencies.
It is fair to say that the current Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) has mostly done a good job. It was designed to make sure that no unsafe meat entered the food chain at a time when BSE had shaken consumer confidence in beef. But this good work risks being smothered under the growing weight of red tape. New regulations have come at a very high cost to the industry and weighed particularly heavily on smaller plants. The controls are beginning to look like overkill.
We want a cost-effective MHS that retains its core role: to oversee a process that delivers safe, high-quality meat to the shops and tables of our consumers. For producers, that means official controls must be proportionate to the risk. They must take into account what operators do to ensure food safety on the farm and in the plant, and then what happens to the product up to the point it is cooked by the consumer.
It will be vital to link the "eyes and ears" of enforcement officers if we are to minimise the regulatory burden. Any costs are inevitably passed down the chain. In the current climate of shifting costs from the taxpayer to the industry, as well as the "better regulation" agenda, it is imperative that industry can share the benefits as well as the costs of controls.
Increased responsibilities must come with increased power to influence the policy and the delivery. Farmers are continually reminded they need to be more efficient and this relies on efficiency in the whole supply chain, including official controls.
A truly risk- and evidence-based approach is the only way this will work. Scarce resources must be targeted towards the rogue elements, to the poor practices that put the whole industry at risk. There is no excuse for sub-standard hygiene practices when dealing with meat. But our customers' trust in the food we produce depends on the whole industry taking responsibility and being rewarded for doing so.