News & Updates

Planning ahead for Food Standards Scotland

By Bryan Campbell, Head of Operational Delivery at Food Standards Scotland.

While many of us will be using the festive period to spend quality time with family, relax, and indulge in one – or a few! – pigs-in-blankets, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the year just gone and plan the one ahead.

For Food Standards Scotland (FSS), and especially in the Operational Delivery division, 2023 was a busy year bringing challenges and opportunities that we have met head on.

In particular, we’ve had to look at additional measures to address ongoing recruitment challenges being faced by the veterinary profession – particularly the recruitment of Trainee/Official Veterinarians (T/OVs).

OVs play a key role in ensuring meat produced in slaughterhouses or processing plants is handled safely and in line with relevant food law. However, this is not a problem unique to Scotland, the entire veterinary profession UK wide is facing resourcing challenges, which are contributing to difficulties and delays in recruiting sufficient OVs.

To put into context just how much we rely on non-UK nationals for this important role, out of the circa 40 OVs employed by FSS, there is only one part-time Scottish official within the team. As a result, overseas recruitment remains a vital means of securing adequate staffing.

We have been working hard on a number of measures to recruit more OVs at home and abroad. FSS has established additional pay and recognition schemes, improved training, and developed an Official Controls Veterinarian customised award with the Scottish Qualifications Authority. However, despite these initiatives, the future supply of experienced professionals to fill OV roles remains a significant risk and FSS will continue to monitor this closely. We are proactively addressing these challenges in partnership with the meat industry with a new recruitment campaign kicking off in January 2024.

Even with these resourcing challenges, we are proud to say that we have throughout the year ensured that the required high standards of animal welfare and meat hygiene have been maintained in all meat establishments and our retention levels with our existing workforce remain very high.

Animal feed is another important part of the food chain, and any hygiene and safety failures can pose significant risks to human health. Animal feed businesses must therefore meet a range of legal requirements relating to hygiene, traceability, labelling, composition, feed safety management systems and undesirable substances.

In recent years the monitoring of these businesses had proved to be inconsistent especially during the disruption of the pandemic. During this time, the Scottish Government saw a spike in safety concerns in some areas such as raw pet food where pets – and their owners who were handling the feed – became unwell due to various contaminants.

As a result, the Scottish Parliament made FSS the sole competent authority in April 2021 for feed safety and we have been building up systems and a team to support farms, manufacturers and sellers to ensure that products on the market are safe for all species and the end consumer in the supermarket.

We have categorised each registered business according to activity and risk. For example, a farmer growing their own cereals and buying complementary feed to mix in, is a different risk category to those manufacturing compounds/blends or even raw pet food. A typical frequency for most farms may be 5-10 years providing the compliance was good at the most recent inspection. In comparison, large animal feed manufacturers who are also creating new products would be classified as higher risk and inspected more frequently.

The FSS Feed Delivery team as the competent authority for feed safety is independent from the Scottish Government and its Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID). What we do does not affect inspections by them nor does it affect subsidies. We are here to work with farmers to better understand and improve the feed hygiene and safety from farm to plate.

Looking towards 2024, FSS has a number of initiatives planned with the meat industry, including a series of working groups at strategic, operational and technical level and will continue to make positive strides to maintain the required OV numbers. We will work even closer with farmers and businesses across the feed industry, targeting regulation where it is most needed and ensuring what ends up on our plate is safe and authentic.