EU Food Standards? Don't Make Me Laugh

Graham Charles Lear
6 min readJun 3, 2021

Photo of a British pig farm. Outdoor rearing. Happy little piggies with the freedom to run around playing.

Latest EU rules mean the pork they export to the UK contains “abscesses, pus and TB material”, say EU’s own safety inspectors

In recent weeks the National Farmers’ Union and others have been gaining significant media coverage in their outrage over the possibility that Brexit Britain might in the future import more of its food from countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.

One of their key arguments relates to food safety. They claim that the British consumer will be inundated with unsafe meat. Therefore I looked at the EU’s recent lowering of safety standards for the far higher quantities of imported meat from the EU which we have been eating for years.

If the EU wants to portray itself as a responsible regulator of food safety standards, it might be thought that they would be strengthening food safety regulations in order to protect the public, not rowing back on them. Not so, according to the European Working Community for Food Inspection and Consumer Protection (EFWFC) which represents the EU’s meat inspectors.

The EU has actually lowered its food safety requirements. Yes, you heard right. The EU has actually lowered its food safety requirements

“Consumers are being exposed to an “avoidable risk” of disease after a reduction of official controls in food inspections of pig and poultry carcasses across the EU. Diseased meat is being eaten by consumers in the UK and EU, including pus from abscesses and tuberculosis lesions from pigs’ heads.”

The European Working Community for Food Inspection and Consumer Protection (EFWFC), 15 Sept 2020

The EU has introduced new measures for checking pigs entering the food chain. This reduced the requirement for checking pig meat from a thorough inspection to a visual-only inspection. A visual-only inspection misses underlying diseases. In the words of Ron Spellman, the Deputy Secretary of the European Working Community for Food Inspection and Consumer Protection (EFWFC) which represents EU meat inspectors.

“Inspectors stopped cutting lymph nodes in pigs’ heads, which are known to contain abscesses and tuberculosis lesions. Under previous systems, the pigs’ head would have been rejected for food, but now the meat is minced to make sausages and meat pies, spreading the pus from the abscesses and TB material throughout these products.”

“I don’t think you can prove it’s safe to feed people abscesses, pus and TB material.”

Mr Spelman also speculated on the reasons for the EU’s reduction in its food safety requirement

“These changes are motivated not by science or a desire to protect the consumer but are politically motivated to give the [EU] meat industry what they want: the reductions and eventual removal of official independent meat inspection.”

EU27’s meat-related exports to the UK in 2020

UK’s imports of EU27 beef: £1.2 billion

UK’s imports of EU27 pork: £2.3 billion

UK’s imports of EU27 poultry: £1.5 billion

UK’s imports of EU27 lamb: £0.1 billion

UK’s imports of EU27 dairy: £2.5 billion

Total: £7.6 billion of meat-related imports from the EU in 2020

Source: European Commission Agridata for 2020.

We are eating EU27 meat

Every year in the UK around eight million pigs are slaughtered for meat and the UK also imports pork meat from EU27 countries, partly because of British consumers’ preference for certain cuts such as pork chops. Meat from pigs’ heads is recovered by specialised boning plants and goes into pies, sausages and other processed foods. Millions of us consume this meat many times each year.

The UK’s farming sector rears millions of animals of all kinds for meat consumption, but the British consumer still eats over a quarter of this meat from the EU27 countries, and from further afield. According to the British Meat Processors Association, the pro-EU trade body:

“Popular cuts of meat still need to be imported to meet the UK’s needs. Meat processing companies rely on imports for 26% of their supply, with the rest coming from UK farms.”

The size of the food safety problem

I looked at the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) report from January of last year. Here is what they said about ‘foodborne diseases’ — which most people would refer to as ‘food poisoning’

“We estimate that there were 2.4 million cases of foodborne disease in the UK in 2018, with 222,000 GP presentations and 16,400 hospital admissions.”

“Foodborne Disease Estimates for the United Kingdom in 2018”, FSA Report Jan 2020

By any measure, this effect on public health from 2.4 million cases of ‘foodborne diseases’ in one year is highly significant.

So what does the EU Commission have to say about all of this?

The EU Commission’s justification for the reduction in meat inspections is that the cutting up of pig carcasses as part of meat inspections increases the risk of harmful bacteria spreading onto the meat.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said: “Any meat with lesions indicating an animal disease such as TB, or abscesses, or any pathological or organoleptic changes, must be considered as unfit for human consumption and not be placed on the market.”

The meat inspectors would doubtless agree with these worthy sentiments. However, the problem as they see it is that the EU has reduced its safety requirements and ordered visual-only inspections of pigs. As the European Working Community for Food Inspection and Consumer Protection says: “There’s no way to see those little abscesses, little tuberculosis lesions, without cutting those lymph nodes.”

I wrote an article on this in October last year.

In the case of food safety standards above it seems that the EU claims one thing and does another.

“You are what you eat”, as the saying goes. If that is the case then we are now worried about all the barbecued pork sausages we would normally consume over the summer. And we will never look at a pork pie in quite the same way again. I certainly don't, I like Pork Pies, however, I now buy them from butchers on the high street who use British pork and make them themselves. I now never buy them from the supermarkets that get them from the large food manufacturing factories that will be using EU pork meat that has these abscesses, little tuberculosis lesions, and I advise people to do the same, its also the same with pork sausages, I buy them from local butchers on the high street who use decent British meat.

However Help is at hand, and it’s called being an independent country again

As a result of Great Britain adopting all the EU’s laws and Directives following Brexit, Great Britain is still bound by the EU’s rules on food safety. Previously if the UK as a whole had wished to restore the previous rules where our meat inspectors could do more than a visual inspection of a pig that might be infected, we could not have done so.

Sadly Northern Ireland is still part of the EU’s Single Market, with all EU Directives permanently in place. For Great Britain, however, from 01 January 2021, we were able to start setting our own rules. To date, DEFRA (the UK’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) has not made these vital changes.

The scare stories from pro-EU, UK bodies about trade deals with the likes of Australia and the USA

All we ever seem to hear from all the pro-EU trade bodies in the UK are warnings of lowering food safety standards by virtue of new trade deals in the offing with the rest of the world. I find it interesting that not one whiff of criticism or even concern ever seems to be directed at the massive imports of imported food from the EU.

In my example above I focused on one such concern: imported EU pork meat. Pork is not an isolated case, however. Don’t even get me started on chickens and eggs from the EU, or we will be here for a lot longer.

[ Sources: European Working Community for Food Inspection and Consumer Protection | European Food Safety Authority | European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control | The Association of Meat Inspectors Trust | Food Standards Authority | DEFRA | European Commission ]



Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.