Refrigerated warehouses offer food safety advantages

July 1, 2002
In light of concerns about food safety and veterinary epidemics, more meat should be moved in processed fresh or frozen condition rather than moving live

In light of concerns about food safety and veterinary epidemics, more meat should be moved in processed fresh or frozen condition rather than moving live animals to slaughter houses nearer the place of consumption, Neil Parish, an English farmer and conservative member of the European Union parliament from the United Kingdom, told the 111th annual convention of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses. The meeting was held in San Antonio, Texas, April 13 to 18, 2002.

Explaining the functioning of the European parliament, Parish said that the UK has 87 representatives in the European Union body, considerably fewer than the 650 members in the UK House of Commons. Parish represents the Southwestern region of England, including the city of Bristol in a British contingent that includes 37 conservatives, he said.

The European parliament is more important than some might think, because 65% of legislation flowing through the parliaments of member countries actually originates in the EU body in Brussels, Parish said. For that reason, he places considerable emphasis on trying to influence the EU parliament standing on agricultural and environmental issues. “We have no central European government, nor should we have a European government,” he said. “My political view is that we need to cooperate and to involve ourselves in Europe, but we need to maintain the cultural differences of the member states while developing a large, cooperative trading area with a single market.”

Enlarged Union with small farms

One of the biggest issues confronting the European Union is the prospect of an enlarged organization, Parish said. The union currently contains 15 member states, soon to be expanded to 25 members with the possibility of 30 nations involved. The first wave of expansion will include large nations such as Poland and Hungary along with smaller states like the Czech Republic and Estonia. Of those, the largest is Poland with a population of 40 million. In that population, 10 million are involved in agriculture on three million farms. Some of those farms are only a few acres — probably less than 10 — and the average herd of cattle numbers four, up recently from three.

While the nations of Eastern Europe seem a long way from the US, they are immediate neighbors to EU members such as Germany, Parish said. Their integration into Europe requires solving the problems produced by 40 years of communism. Forced membership in the Eastern Bloc did those nations no good, he said. “Drive through the Polish countryside and look at the telegraph poles with the old-fashioned single wires as an example of how far behind the rest of the continent Eastern Europe fell in the years following World War II,” he said. “They are catching up, but when they are admitted to the Union, we must be sure that they are ready from the first day to meet the high standards for things such as food safety that the rest of the Union has come to expect.”

Following the epidemics among farm animals in recent years, European consumers have become extremely aware of where their food comes from, Parish said. They want to know how that food is produced. At the same time, consumers demand competitive pricing. Only recently have consumers begun to agree to slightly higher prices for food that they know was produced under the highest of safety standards, he said.

Poland provides a good example. In preparation for European Union membership, agricultural and food safety legislation has been passed by the Polish parliament, Parish said. The problem is implementing the legislation. In many cases, the Poles cannot find the cattle that they intend to regulate. “On a recent tour of a Polish dairy plant, I saw more than half the milk coming to the plant in jugs not properly refrigerated,” he said.

Bringing in new members will make agricultural markets in the European Union more competitive. The Union already has had an impact on agricultural subsidies, Parish said. As recently as five years ago European agricultural was subsidized at a rate of 0.8% of gross domestic produce while the US was putting only 0.5% into farm subsidies. That situation, today, is completely reversed, with the US subsidizing agriculture at a higher rate than Europe, he said.

Within the past 18 months, British farmers were just beginning to recover from the damage inflicted by the mad cow disease epidemic when their herds were diagnosed with foot and mouth disease, Parish said. The result was the uncompensated slaughter of 4.5 million animals. Border controls can be an important factor in preventing the spread of agricultural disease. For instance, the US has strict standards rigidly enforced with the result that it has not seen a foot and mouth outbreak since 1920, he said.

Critics of agricultural policy in the United Kingdom argue against vaccines to prevent foot and mouth disease, because the public would not accept vaccinated meat, Parish said. However, Britain imports more than 70,000 tons of vaccinated meat from Argentina annually.

One fact that has come to light following the epidemics in the UK is that live animals are transported far too much, Parish said. The food industry, particularly refrigerated warehouses, can help solve this problem. It is far better to slaughter animals close to where they were raised. This has two results. First, the animals are treated better, suffering less stress from travel before slaughter. Secondly, animals are not moved from place to place with the prospect of transmitting disease from one region to another, he said. Transporting safe, chilled fresh or frozen meat through a national or international network of refrigerated warehouses and food distributors makes much more sense than moving live animals unnecessarily, Parish said.

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