Increased health inspection charge proposals slammed

The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) has said it is disappointed that the task force recommendations were published just as the Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA), which advises the Government, announced proposed additional costs for plant health inspections.

FPC chief executive Nigel Jenney said: "It is unacceptable to impose more costs and delays on the industry on one hand when you are promising on the other hand to regulate with a lighter touch. It just doesn't add up. FERA should focus its resources where there are real risks and deliver a more efficient cost-effective service to importers and their agents."

He added: "We are extremely concerned about the emerging proposals to increase plant health charges by many millions. This is not acceptable, viable or competitive versus our European counterparts.

"We recognise that Defra and FERA have a job to do but the risk of any plant health issues arising from fresh produce is less than one per cent. An EU-wide review of the plant health regime is already underway and we await the findings, so why is FERA intent on imposing these exorbitant charges now and placing UK businesses at a commercial disadvantage?"

The FPC is calling for current standard charges to be applied and for FERA to carry out a rigorous review of the level of service provided to the industry, with reduced inspection levels reflecting the negligible risk from fresh produce.

Farming minister Jim Paice, speaking last week in London at the annual Re:Fresh conference, said: "Part of the Government's agenda is to balance its books. FERA's business is under serious financial pressure like all other Government departments. But we have to make sure that cost itself is reasonable. That's where you have to challenge FERA - where you feel there is room for manoeuvre."

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