Eggs in a tray

Protect our food, says UK’s biggest union

Unison launches campaign ahead of Brexit negotiations.
06 February 2020 , Katie Coyne

A campaign to ‘protect our food’ ahead of Brexit trade deal negotiations and in light of austerity cuts is being launched by the UK’s biggest trade union.

Unison will launch its campaign next week. It decided to take action after hearing concerns from its members – particularly EHPs – around the direction in which food safety regulation is going.

Unison national officer Paul Bell – who was also due to hand in a petition to keep meat inspections independent to the FSA this week – said: “We may be a trade union but we are also a consumer voice and we are hearing from our members, from EH officers, that they do not like what they are seeing and they are concerned.”

Against a background of more than a decade of cuts to local authority funding and with concerns that the UK may relax it’s food hygiene and animal welfare standards to do a deal with the US, alarm bells have been ringing within the union.

Unison has carried out research into the public’s perception of food safety regulation and found them to be strongly in favour of it being kept independent. The union has sampled public opinion on the work of EHPs, and found that they are concerned to keep this work under the local authority control. This research will be published in the coming weeks.

Bell also pointed to a report the union carried out on the impact of austerity cuts on EH, which found a 40.95% reduction in programmed inspections between 2009 and 2018.

As part of the report, Unison surveyed EHPs and found 58% of respondents believed legitimate businesses were more likely to cut corners. It collated comments from EHPs on their concerns and found:

“It feels like we are heading back to Victorian times.”

“I started in 1960 and this is by far the worst time I have been in.”

“Our local authority has no Environmental Health contingency plans for Brexit to help ensure that the public is protected should there be a ‘no deal’.”

“Fewer animal health inspections are a major concern as farms are not being inspected to check on feed, animal movements for disease control. The last time we had a major disease outbreak in 2001 (foot and mouth) it cost the economy millions. All those measures put in place then are no longer checked due to all the cuts. At some point, something big will happen again as systems are not being maintained.”

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