Criticism of inspection trial blasted

Criticism of a trial allowing meat companies to carry out some meat inspection functions themselves was misguided and ignored the fact they had a vested interest in ensuring it was done properly, an industry body says.

Meat Industry Association chief executive Tim Ritchie said there was no way meat companies would compromise the country's reputation for safe, high-quality products, and inspection was based on processes and systems developed over 130 years of exporting.

"The last thing the industry wants is to do anything to interfere with that reputation."

The Public Service Association (PSA) has been campaigning against the trial, which started at Affco's Imlay works last month and will begin shortly at Silver Farm Farms' Pareora works and Alliance Group's Mataura plant.

The trial, approved and run by the MIA and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority, still uses qualified vets and meat inspectors to oversee food safety areas, but meat company staff oversee animal and carcass quality inspection, such as bruising.

The PSA's national secretary Richard Wagstaff said the only way to guarantee the high quality and reputation of New Zealand meat, and maintain the trust of overseas markets and consumers, was by independent inspection.

The United States Senate earlier this month passed a Bill to overhaul the US food safety system, which he said illustrated concerns about food safety.

The Otago Daily Times has received an anonymous letter warning the move would reduce food safety and jeopardise our meat exports.

The letter writer said, under the trial, warranted government inspectors would deal only with pathological conditions requiring the total condemnation of the animal.

But Mr Ritchie said there was an international trend for processors to oversee quality control. The New Zealand dairy, fish and poultry industries did their own quality inspections.

Meat inspection cost the industry $80 million a year, of which $45 million was paid for inspection services from AsureQuality, which had a monopoly, he said.

The current inspection service was based on tradition and the trial was in line with global trends and an example of companies wanting to take more responsibility, Mr Ritchie said.

He was angry some critics of the move had contacted buyers of New Zealand meat and spread their version of details about the trial, and in doing so had stirred up concerns.

"This is totally irresponsible. They need to think about the time New Zealand has taken to get our reputation and to do this is like shooting ourselves in the foot - and it is blatantly untrue."

Mr Ritchie said the Meat Industry Association was not working towards a final structure at this stage, but wanted to see if companies could oversee part of the inspection role.


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