The all-day inquiry, held on Wednesday (October 25), was launched after allegations were made about food safety, hygiene and welfare breaches at the company’s West Bromwich plant. It followed an undercover joint investigation by The Guardian and ITV News.
2 Sisters boss Ranjit Boparan, who faced scrutiny from the committee in the afternoon, attended the morning’s meeting with an entourage of advisors.
In the morning, representatives from the British Poultry Council, British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standards and Red Tractor were grilled by MPs on their inspections and procedures over food safety.
Parish accused them of not reacting enough to the situation.
‘Nobody talks to anybody’
“As far as I can see, everyone seems to do their own separate audits and nobody seems to talk to anybody and then people can slip through,” said Parish.
“The whole idea of food safety, going back to days of horsemeat was that we were going to have intelligence, we were going to know what was going on and big processing plants need to have that stick as well as carrot to know you are watching them.”
He questioned how the 2 Sisters “breach” happened if the correct checks and procedures were in place. He also questioned why there was no intelligence on the plant prior to the journalists’ investigation.
“This should not have happened. All of you are culpable in one way or the other,” he said.
He also asked how the various audits were put together as a basis for intelligence gathering.
“There doesn’t seem to be anyone putting this evidence together. Surely you would start to get a better picture if there was a problem. Everything seems to be acting in isolation. I think it allows people to break the rules or bend the rules and not be detected,” Parish stated.
Mark Proctor, ceo of BRC Global Standards, admitted that there was no organisation tasked with co-ordinating the sharing of this information, but said there were confidentiality issues.
However, he revealed that a new surveillance system had been put in place at the 2 Sisters site after the breach, but added that he could not divulge any more information on this.
Audits not the ‘silver bullet’
He said that audits were not the “silver bullet”, but were an essential part of a food safety regime.
Proctor also revealed that BRC Global Standards was looking into how the food safety culture in companies could be assessed and improved. He added that modern technologies such as ‘blockchain’ and analytical techniques could also be used to improve food safety surveillance.
BRC Global Standards has developed a tool that can assess the culture within a plant and it was looking to roll this out as a “proactive approach”.
Red Tractor head of assurance Sue Lockhart said the organisation had conducted a series of unannounced audits across the 2 Sisters estate. She gave the committee her assurance that the organisation would look into its intelligence gathering.
Following the issues raised by the undercover investigation, lessons had to be learned and doing nothing from this point was “unacceptable”, said Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council.
He added that “we need to restore confidence” and the industry needed to work more closely with assurance schemes and regulators such as the Food Standards Agency and local authority inspectors.
A further meeting of the select committee would be reconvened in six months to question the food assurance organisations on their progress, EFRA chair Parish announced.