FSA agrees to lobby EU for change in ‘smokies’ law

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wales, Time, European union

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said it will campaign for a change in European law to allow the production of smoked skin-on sheep meat for human consumption.

The agency’s board agreed yesterday to approach UK Ministers to take up the case for skin-on sheep meat – known as smokies – with officials in Brussels. At present, their production is banned in the EU because hygiene legislation requires that all body parts of sheep intended for human consumption, except for the head and feet, be completely skinned.

Safe production

The FSA said it reached its decision after studies had shown it was possible to produce the meat safely and hygienically in slaughterhouses. One study by Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) - Meat Promotion for Wales – estimated the segment could be worth £3m annually to farmers and processors in Wales alone.

The European Commission has previously said it would be prepared to consider changing the law but that it would demand “strong supporting evidence”​ and any legalisation process was likely to take a “number of years”,​ said the FSA.

Smokies are eaten by some ethnic groups in the UK and an illegal trade is known to exist. The FSA said a change in the law “would help to eliminate the driver for the current illegal production of smokies that carries food safety risks to consumers and requires considerable enforcement activity​”.

The agency also acknowledged that any move would open up a new and potentially lucrative market. It stressed the practice remained illegal at the present time and that its officials would continue to take action against those breaching the regulations.

Costs for processors

The HCC previously estimated that abattoirs and processors wishing to enter the sector would face initial costs of between £75,000 and £125,000 for new machinery. Research carried out for the body by the University of Bristol said the £3m annual revenue would be generated by a throughput of 155,000 cull ewe carcasses a year in Wales, with the retail price of each estimated at around ₤20. This is based on a retailer cut of £5, the abattoir £10 and the producer £5.

Abattoirs would have to process and market 7,500 ewes annually to cover cost of equipment of £75,000 for ‘skin-on sheep meat’ production based on an increased income of £10/ head for ‘skin-on sheep meat’ carcasses over conventionally produced carcasses, forecast the study.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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