British Meat Processors Association
British Meat Processors Association
BMPA conference panel discussion

Heather Hancock and Jason Feeney during the panel discussion

BMPA Conference 2018 Provides Food for Thought

The Annual BMPA Conference yesterday proved a useful springboard for discussions around the key issues currently facing the British meat industry.

Delegates were given a rare opportunity to pose direct questions to MP George Eustice from DEFRA; they also challenged the FSA’s Heather Hancock and Jason Feeney on their plans for how the regulator will be working with Government and the Industry moving forward.

Q & A with Minister George Eustice

Mr Eustice, in a Q&A style interview with Journalist Steve Richards, said that Britain should stand firm on higher standards and ‘not get spooked’ by the demands of other prospective trading partners. He stressed that it’s “up to us to set the terms of access” to our market.

The Minister also sought to re-assure the gathered meat industry crowd that this would be helped by “refocusing the subsidy regime to support animal welfare” in the new agricultural policy currently being debated. Government, he said, could also “loosen the reigns on TF3 and TF5 visas” post Brexit to ease labour shortages and further support the industry.

On the Irish Border, Mr Eustice could provide somewhat less re-assurance. He was challenged by a member of the audience, who pointed out that this is a ‘Catch 22’ situation. Government must be able to explain what the border agreement looks like before Parliament can vote on the withdrawal. The Minister explained that if we don’t get an agreement, it would then be open to the UK to “unilaterally adopt a risk-based border approach” (the so-called ‘Max-Fac’ solution) but, he added, there is no guarantee that the EU would reciprocate.

Another unresolved issue is that of our trade deals with 3rd party countries. Once we leave, it’s not clear if these agreements will continue to be honoured as the deals were set up with the UK as a member of the EU. Mr Eustice suggested that, once we leave, we would have to bi-laterally re-agree all those 3rd party agreements as they roll-over.

Panel Discussion and Q&A with Food Standards Authority

Heather Hancock and Jason Feeney sent a clear message that, under their leadership, the Regulator will be less “isolated” and will work much more collaboratively with industry, Government and Local Authorities to pursue a common goal. They stressed that “it’s about listening and engaging and having respect for the relationship” and are determined that the industry voice will be heard especially where there are disagreements.

They also re-assured the audience that the other voices that will be heard are those of whistle-blowers who step up to the mark when they see failings in compliance and bad practices.

There is still a big reluctance to come forward with intelligence but Ms Hancock and Mr Feeney pointed out that there’s no advantage to turning a blind eye. It merely encourages people to flout the rules if they see others not being investigated and punished.

The FSA chiefs gave emphatic assurance that anyone coming forward with a complaint to their National Food Crime Unit would be given complete anonymity and confidentiality.

Heather Hancock also touched on an issue that is only set to grow and which BMPA and many others in the industry recognise as significant. When asked about the public’s changing attitudes to meat and the narrative that’s developing in the media she said that “meat is emotive…If that narrative builds [then] that’s the reality”.

Over the coming weeks we will be picking up on all the issues raised at the conference and working with our members and the wider industry to tackle them.

About BMPA

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) is the leading trade association for the meat and meat products industry in the UK.

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