Government has ‘no perception’ of E.coli crisis impact

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fresh produce, European union, European commission

Government has ‘no perception’ of E.coli crisis impact
The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) has criticised “UK government plc” for what it describes as a damaging and misleading response to the deadly European E.coli crisis that has left this country's fresh produce industry in turmoil.

FPC ceo Nigel Jenney told FoodManufacture.co.uk that recent meetings with UK government ministers had also convinced him that, "they have no perception of the impact of this crisis on the UK fresh produce industry and growers. They see it as a problem for other countries in Europe."

Jenney was speaking after the European Commission (EC) yesterday implemented a ban on imports of certain types of seeds and beans from Egypt​, which followed a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announcement that Egyptian fenugreek seeds were the most likely cause of deadly French and German E.coli outbreaks.

An FPC spokeswoman said this morning that EFSA's import ban on some Egyptian seeds and beans risked making things worse, as CN codes (international product identity codes) targeting specific goods linked to the outbreaks also included fresh produce such as peas and dwarf beans.

Overly precautionary advice

“We’ve flagged this issue up via our EU contacts and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It’s unbelievable that fresh produce is again being penalised – we’re very concerned,”​ she said.

The FPC also believes that the UK Food Standards Agency's (FSA's) current advice to consumers that they should eat only cooked 'raw sprouted seeds' is misleading.

Although Jenney said he recognised the importance of consumer safety, he added that the agency’s advice was overly precautionary, while it suggested that foods such as mustard cress and micro herbs, which are meant to be eaten raw, should be cooked.

Jenney said he had raised the issue with the FSA at a meeting a week ago, and also in writing, but the agency had not replied and its advice had not changed. “We have an industry is in turmoil and there’s still no ​[revised] advice,” ​he said.

An FSA spokesman replied: “The FSA’s advice is clear and consistent: in the current situation, we advise against eating any raw sprouted seeds.

“This is consistent with guidance from EFSA. It is precautionary advice and is being kept under review as the investigation develops. Consumer safety is our number one priority.”

Lost sales revenues

The FPC said that lost sales revenues for UK producers of cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuces as a result of the crisis total £54m, while bean sprout sales losses have hit £30m.

Jenney said a €210m (£187m) EU compensation pot via the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was “too little, too late”​: was only open to growers, only covered losses for an unduly limited period - “unlike in other EU states” - ​and didn’t include products such as bean sprouts.

He added that applications had also been blighted by an “administration systems”​ failure at DEFRA, which the ministry has denied. He also challenged it to do more to fight the cause of UK industry within the EU.

Related topics: Food Safety, Fresh produce

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