2 Sisters safety breaches: meat assurance schemes ‘culpable’

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

EFRA chairman Neil Parish MP: ‘This should not have happened. All of you are culpable’
EFRA chairman Neil Parish MP: ‘This should not have happened. All of you are culpable’

Related tags: Food safety, Food standards agency

Chairman of the House of Commons’ Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee Neil Parish MP has accused the UK’s main meat assurance schemes of being “culpable” for the alleged breaches of food safety identified in an undercover press investigation at the 2 Sisters Food Group factory in West Bromwich.

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.

Related topics: Food Safety, Meat, poultry & seafood

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3 comments

Regulating Our Future ???

Posted by Graham Wilson,

It is these same audit reports from these organisations the Food Standards Agency are expecting (nay TELLING) Local Authority Environmental Health Departments to accept as evidence of compliance, and therefore they should be outside any food hygiene inspection regime in the post Brexit world of "Regulating Our Future" as seen by the FSA Chair Heather Hancock.

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Mp full of it

Posted by Russell Livingstone,

This mp has no clue does he think that there are hundreds of thousands of inspectors covering every food plant every hour of every day!!!!! Why do people who know zero about food ma ufacture get to be judge and jury?

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Shocking

Posted by Jennifer Blincow,

How about punishing those in charge of the businesses rather than sweeping statements about the industry as a whole. An audit shows a snap shot in time... a business owner knows whether he/she is properly and responsibly investing in food safety. Have the right people, give the right training, spend money (dare i say it) investing in food safety. Yes these "industry bodies" can offer advice, training and suggestions for continuous improvement but this is not a new business with limited knowledge of the food industry and food safety, this is a well established business who should, by now, know how to run food safe factories.

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