That’s the verdict of shadow food and farming minister Huw Irranca-Davies, who claimed the government’s silence on the FSA’s admission, and confirmation it intended to take no further action, was “deafening”.
“I am astonished post-horsemeat, which turned out not to do with consumer safety but the provenance of food, that now we have an issue that is about food safety we do not have government ministers saying we need to sort this out,” he told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
The FSA conducted detailed audits at 2 Sisters’ plants at Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, and Llangefni in Wales on July 25, the day after the Guardian reported instances of poor hygiene practices at the sites. The agency then said the visits had cleared the factories of hygiene failings.
However, the FSA has now admitted the Scunthorpe plant had breached hygiene regulations, a stance the Guardian covered in an article published today (August 13).
“This government which presided over the horsemeat scandal is now presiding over breaches of meat hygiene rules,” said Irranca-Davies. “[Food and farming minister] Liz Truss and [health minister] Jeremy Hunt have failed to provide leadership for the consumer, and their inaction is damaging public confidence in our food industry.
‘No enforcement action’
“First we were told that there had been no breaches of hygiene regulations, then the FSA writes to clarify that a breach of hygiene regulations did in fact take place, but that no enforcement action will be taken.
“Consumers rightly demand that the meat they buy in supermarkets is of good quality and has been processed safely and hygienically in line with the law. Consumers will wonder why no enforcement action has been taken when breaches of hygiene regulations have occurred.”
One source close to government told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the FSA was battling a lack of resources and cuts to meat hygiene inspections. As a result, the public should not be surprised that some of its decisions were subject to revision and that the government should be blamed for this for not supporting it enough, he said.
An FSA spokeswoman said: “The FSA has carried out a further review of the Guardian footage which shows a chicken being picked off the floor and returned to a bin. We have reviewed the footage in the light of information we have gathered about the business’s procedures for dealing with such events.
“Birds falling on the floor are a potential risk, but if there is proper procedure (such as effective washing) it is not a non-compliance. The conclusion of a review visit was that the examples in the video did provide evidence of failure to follow the plant’s own procedures and so constituted a breach of hygiene regulations.
‘Corrective actions taken’
“We are satisfied that corrective actions have been taken by the company and it is our view that no formal enforcement action is appropriate.”
She said its decision had not been made on the basis of any new evidence or audits and that it had not seen the information in the new Guardian report before this morning.
In a statement responding to the Guardian article, 2 Sisters Food Group said: “We welcomed the recent FSA independent audit at two of our sites, which found no legal compliance issues. Both customers and our own internal investigations supported the FSA’s findings.
“However, we are not complacent and we will carry on with our own continual improvement programme, taking on board learnings, investing in our colleagues, our factories and our product development. We will also lead on hygiene and continue with our industry-leading campylobacter trials to tackle this issue once and for all.
“We are determined to lead the poultry sector with best practice and compliance, and are always looking to improve standards across our operation.”