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Food manufacturer in row over £23,500 labels fine

By Mike Stones , 15-Nov-2012

A Suffolk food firm claims its £23,500 fine for making false claims about the ingredients in its pesto was “heavy handed” and “wasted public money”, adding that Cambridgeshire County Council backed its view.

Stark claimed the prosecution was "heavy handed"

Stark claimed the prosecution was "heavy handed"

Stark Naked Foods, based in Eye, Suffolk, admitted 14 offences at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court, including falsely claiming its Pesto contained Grana Padano.  The prosecution was brought by Suffolk County Council’s trading standards.

Magistrates were told that the firm had claimed the pesto was fresh but some of the ingredients had been previously frozen.

Victoria Stark, the firm’s founder, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The company believes this was a heavy handed, sledge hammer approach by the council which has cost ratepayers  over £30,000 despite there being no customer complaints or food safety issues .

‘Employees  lost their jobs’

“The cost to the business is far in excess of this figure as five Suffolk-based employees lost their jobs and four out of five of the supermarkets, which bought the products, have withdrawn their business.”

Stark added that Cambridge County Council, which had advised her business, was sympathetic to her views and the two organisations had issued a joint press release. She later said the two organisations would be issuing a joint press release.

But a spokesman for Cambridge County Council denied that his organisation had issued a joint press release with the Eye-based firm – or had plans to do so in future.

Asked whether the council agreed with Stark’s claim that the prosecution by Suffolk County Council was “heavy handed” and “wasted public money”, the spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk:  “That is not for us to comment. It is a matter for the courts.”

‘Wasted public money’

The firm said it had sought advice from Suffolk Trading Standards in 2007 but when the relationship broke down it referred its questions to the Better Regulation Delivery Office, part of the government's Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.  The firm was put in contact with Cambridgeshire Trading Standards “which now work closely with the company providing ‘assured advice’ on all trading standards matters”, said Stark.

She also pointed out in a statement that the court recognised what had happened was not done deliberately or for financial gain. “So, the company was surprised to see a comment by Suffolk trading standards indicating that this was the case. There was no food fraud, in fact, the products have won awards,” said Stark.

The firm blamed the offences on a  previous technical manager. “Many errors were down to a previous technical manager who changed the recipes for longer shelf-life without updating the packaging,” said Stark.

Stark Naked Foods was ordered to pay £5,000 costs.

No one from Suffolk County Council was available for comment due to a computer failure.

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