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Aug 22 2004 ~ Anyone listening to the Today Programme who is also a reader of this website will have echoed our groans when that usually excellent programme chose to suggest yesterday that the ruining of the UK abattoir business by EU Directive, duly gold-plated by the UK government, was "a myth". (Listen Again) Christopher Booker puts the record straight but even his exasperation is more apparent than usual. " At least get your facts right"

Extract from

From The Great Deception p302-304

One size fits all - the slaughter of the slaughtermen

There was no more comprehensive instance of the way this tidal wave of EC legislation was imposed by the Major government than the trauma it brought toBritain's meat industry. Before Britain joined the EEC, the Commission had issued Directive 64/433 to harmonise hygiene standards for the production of meat exported across national frontiers. When these rules, based on a 19th-century German code, had been challenged by non-EEC countries, including New Zealand, as being outdated, the Commission had then modified them, producing new, extra-legal guidelines called the Vade Mecum.

In the 1980s, the UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had imposed these `EC export rules' only on those abattoirs which produced meat for export, also providing grants worth millions of pounds to enable them to comply with the `structural standards: The result reinforced the three-tier structure of the industry, which became split between some 80 large `industrial' abattoirs, massproducing meat for supermarkets and for export; several hundred medium-size abattoirs, mainly producing for family butchers; and several hundred tiny local slaughterhouses, often serving a single adjoining butcher's shop.

As the Single Market approached, harmonised meat hygiene rules were included in the list of measures to apply even to those producers who did not export. The result was a new directive, 91/497, which was actually little different from the earlier directive, but still posed enormous difficulties for the hundreds of small and medium-size abattoirs. They would now have to make the same hugely expensive structural changes originally required only of industrial meat plants. But unlike their larger competitors, they could expect no financial assistance.

What made the situation worse was that as early as May 1990, long before the new directive was finalised, MAFF veterinary officials began `advising' abattoir owners on the supposed new legal requirements. These instructions were based not on the directive, which only emerged in July 1991, but on the Vade Mecum which had no legal force. Bemused owners were then told that unless they complied with these standards by 1 January 1993, the start of the Single Market, they would be prohibited from trading. They were given just seven months to make often major and expensive structural changes without which they would be refused a licence to operate. Faced with what seemed impossible demands, between 1990 and 1992, 205 businesses - more than a quarter of all the abattoirs in Britain - shut their doors.

The survivors were immediately confronted with another problem. The new directive also imposed a continental system of meat inspection, requiring supervision by veterinary surgeons, to replace the traditional British system of using qualified local authority meat inspectors. Lacking vets qualified to inspect meat, however, MAFF adopted a clumsy compromise of requiring meat to be inspected by meat inspectors under the supervision of veterinary officials. Abattoir owners had to pay for both. From 1 January 1993, slaughterhouse owners were being charged up to 100 per hour for the `services' of vets, many of them hired from Spain and with little knowledge of practical hygiene.

In the first week of January 1993, in the slaughterhouse run by Bob Newman in Farnborough, Hampshire, nine men were present. Three were his slaughtermen. The other six were officials, watching them work. In February Nigel Batts, chairman of Reading abattoir, assembled his 17 employees to tell them that, although the business had been doing well enough to warrant expansion, the excessive cost of the new inspection regime was forcing its closure. `This was the worst thing I have ever done in my life,' he said.22 In the months that followed, similar closures took place all over Britain, leaving large areas without an abattoir, forcing some farmers to ship animals over 100 miles to be slaughtered. When agriculture minister John Gummer was challenged as to why the industry was being so damaged, he initially argued that the closures were necessary for `hygiene reasons'. When this was disproved, he then repeatedly fell back, in letters to MPs and others, on the curiously disingenuous explanation that the owners had `taken a commercial decision not to invest in the future of their business'

From The Great Deception