Public services union, Unison, has warned the Food Standards Agency and the Meat Hygiene Service that Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems are failing to prevent contaminated meat being presented to inspectors throughout the UK, it said today (Friday).

In a survey of Meat Hygiene Inspectors carried out by Unison, reports show that HACCP has had very little effect on the standard of meat being presented to our meat inspection members.

HACCP is a system that identifies contaminated meat at critical points within the production chain and is being touted by the Food Standards Agency as the government's preferred system of consumer protection, the union said. If the Food Standards Agency can persuade consumers that they are being protected by HACCP, it will allow the agency to move ahead with its plans to do away with independent meat inspection and hand over the task to the meat plants themselves, it said.

To cope with the quantity of contaminated meat that arrives at inspection points every hour, meat inspectors have traditionally been expected to trim off any contaminated meat before the carcass was stamped as fit for human consumption.

In 2004 the MHS re-issued instructions to its meat inspectors that they were not to carry out trimming as part of the inspection process as HACCP would take over the job of protecting the consumer.

In the Unison survey 92% of meat inspectors stated that HACCP has made no impact on the quality of product presented for inspection at their plant and 78% of the inspectors surveyed said they are still unofficially expected to carry out trimming with the same percentage actually carrying it out.

"It's obvious that HACCP is not working," said Ben Priestley, Unison national officer, said. "The MHS have said that HACCP should mean that inspectors do not have to trim meat yet they are still unofficially expected to do so. The MHS cannot realistically enforce their own instruction to staff not to trim, because it would mean the whole industry coming to a daily standstill as inspectors rejected most of the meat coming to the inspection points."

"We have made our findings available to the Food Standards Agency and the MHS," he said. "We have asked the agency for an urgent high level meeting to ask for a fundamental review of official support for a HACCP system which is not only risking public health, but which places meat inspectors in the daily position of knowingly having to disobey MHS instructions on trimming, because if they didn't the health of the consumer would be put at risk or the whole meat industry in this country would collapse."