FSA rejects claims of ‘over-zealous’ prosecution

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Public health, Food standards agency, Fsa

EU meat hygiene rules state carcasses should be chilled immediately in the slaughterhouse at a temperature throughout the meat of not more than 7°C
EU meat hygiene rules state carcasses should be chilled immediately in the slaughterhouse at a temperature throughout the meat of not more than 7°C
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has rejected claims that it acted “over-zealously” in pressing for the prosecution of Somerset meat firm A C Hopkins (Taunton) for breaking meat hygiene regulations.

The firm was fined £3,000 with costs of £20,000 at the Old Bailey this week for failing to ensure that pig carcasses were chilled immediately in the slaughterhouse at a temperature throughout the meat of not more than 7°C.

But public health consultant Peter Hewson told FoodManufacture.co.uk that this was the latest example of the FSA being “over zealous” in the prosecution of meat firms and, in doing so, “wasting public money”.

‘Technical offence’

Hewson described AC Hopkins’ actions as “a technical offence with no significant public health risk”.

The firm had sent pig carcasses to Smithfield market with an overall temperature of 7°C, which ensured no significant public health risk, he said. But some of the deep muscle tissue had a temperature of 14°C, which broke the EU rules.

If the case had involved non approved premises, which fall under the jurisdiction of local authorities, instead of FSA controlled approved premises, no offence would have been committed, said Hewson.

“The FSA should be proportionate [to the public health risk] in their actions but this was not proportionate,”​ he added. “The FSA don’t take a risk-based approach to enforcement in approved premises.”

Enforce the law

But an FSA spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Our job is to enforce the law and this is all about public health. We are not here to say: we will enforce this part of the law but not that part of the law.”

Speaking after the fine was imposed, Andrew Rhodes, director of operations, said: “This case highlights the responsibilities food businesses and legislators have to ensure that food law is complied with.

“Professor Hugh Pennington, in his 2009 report on the E.coli outbreak in Wales, made the point that legislative requirements are not optional. Food businesses cannot decide what they will or will not comply with, just as legislators such as the FSA cannot pick and choose which parts of legislation we enforce or not.”

Rhodes said the rules were in place to protect public health, and must always be taken seriously. “The vast majority of meat businesses do things correctly, so there is little defence for the minority who do not comply with the law.”​ he added.

The FSA won its case against AC Hopkins in mid February.

AC Hopkins declined to comment on the case.

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