The UK Food Standards Agency has today launched an action plan comprising strict regulations to prevent unfit poultry entering the human food chain.

The last year has seen a number of well-publicised cases where unfit meat has been sold for processing in food products destined for human consumption. Seven people were convicted in Hull last year of conspiracy to defraud by selling pet food meat not passed for human consumption. The case involved more than 1,000 tonnes of poultry by-products. In March 2001, a joint investigation by Amber Valley Council, the police and the FSA led to the seizure of 20 tonnes of unfit poultry meat.

The plan was devised after extensive consultation with the meat industry between 28th April and 8 June this year.

The new seven-point action plan proposed by the Food Standards Agency includes staining high-risk, unfit poultry meat to make it harder for this meat to end up in the wrong processing division. This brings poultry in line with standards already applied to red meat.

It also proposes that the FSA work with the meat industry to develop a Code of Practice on the handling and disposal of animal by-products and independent auditing of their activities. 

A waste taskforce will be established to see if further regulations are necessary to control the safe disposal of 754,000 tonnes of poultry meat that needs disposing of each year.

Sir John Krebs, chairman of the FSA, commented: "It has become apparent since the recent case in Rotherham, and subsequent investigation in Amber Valley, that current controls are not adequately protecting consumers from unfit meat entering the human food chain. There are already strict controls in place, but these need to be tightened and loopholes need to be closed.

"In addition to changes in the law we want to work with industry on ways to improve traceability throughout the food chain," he added. This means that food brokers may be subject to new controls, as the FSA expressed concern that they trade in food but may not be familiar with the source of the products in which they trade. Traders could become the object of close scrutiny by the new task force.

"The FSA Board will consider these proposals very carefully to ensure that the consumer is protected as far as possible from this illegal trade," he added. The new action plan will be mooted by the FSA board at an open meeting to be held on Wednesday [19 September] in Belfast, Northern Ireland.