Essex-based Elmkirk was found guilty on charges brought under the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations. It was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of nearly £26,000.
The Food Hygiene regulations, based on 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.
Unless otherwise authorised by the FSA for journeys of less than two hours, meat must be at this temperature before being transported and remain below 7°C during transportation.
Elmkirk was found guilty of having made seven deliveries to London's Smithfield Market of meat which did not meet the temperature criteria without authorisation.
It had previously had FSA approval to transport warm (more than 7°C) meat to the premises in Smithfield withdrawn.
The eighth charge was for a delivery to premises in Leeds, a journey of more than two hours. The meat should legally have been chilled and kept chilled before and during transportation.
Point of law
Adam Cheale, director of Elmkirk Meats, told Foodmanufacture.co.uk that the company was disappointed by the ruling: “No-one in the court room thought that we had compromised food safety, it was a point of law that was being argued,” he said.
The firm added in a statement: “It was the two hour dispensation rule point of law that was debated in court not specific food safety issues. It was even stressed in court by the prosecution that there was “no significant risk to public health”.
It added: “We would like to stress that there was no food safety compromised in any way and therefore no consumers were put at risk. The meat concerned was never condemned by the FSA or the officials at Smithfield Market, it was used in the food chain under consent of the FSA and the officials at Smithfield.”
Andrew Rhodes, director of operations at the FSA, said: “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.
Protect public health
“The rules are there to protect public health, and must always be taken seriously, as the court agreed. The vast majority of meat businesses do things correctly, so there is little defence for the minority who do not comply with the law.”
Earlier this year, the FSA 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.
That firm was fined £3,000 with costs of £20,000 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.
Speaking at the time, public health consultant Peter Hewson told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the FSA was being “over zealous” in the prosecution of meat firms and, in doing so, “wasting public money”. To read the full story, click here.
“The FSA should be proportionate [to the public health risk] in their actions but this was not proportionate,” he added. “The FSA doesn’t take a risk-based approach to enforcement in approved premises.”
Meanwhile, two former slaughtermen at Elmkirk's Cheale Meats plant were jailed recently for animal cruelty, following an expose by animal welfare campaigning group Animal Aid.
Animal Aid last year released undercover footage of pigs being abused, allegedly filmed at Cheale Meats' abattoir in March and April 2011.
Its videos appeared to show slaughterman Piotr Wasiuta stubbing cigarettes out on the faces of pigs and Kelly Smith beating pigs with a baton. One pig was hit as many as 30 times in a minute.
In April, this year Wasiuta and Smith were given jail terms of six and four months respectively after pleading guilty to animal cruelty charges at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Their prison terms were reduced from nine and seven weeks, respectively, because they had pleaded guilty to the charges.
Adam Cheale told Foodmanufacture.co.uk: “We fully support the court and don't condone any mistreatment of animals.”