He was speaking to MPs on the House of Commons’ Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee at an all-day probe on Wednesday (October 25) after allegations were made about food, hygiene and welfare breaches at the company’s West Bromwich plant. The hearing followed a joint undercover investigation by The Guardian and ITN News.
Boparan was grilled by MPs on the committee and agreed to fund the inspectors after an engagement with MP for Keighley John Grogan.
Grogan said: “Clearly, your business is in trouble, retailers have stopped taking from you for a while and you are going through crisis management at the moment. Why not say to the FSA for the next year we want your inspectors not just in this plant but in all the other plants and we will fund the cost of that to try to get some confidence back?”
‘I absolutely welcome it’
Boparan agreed to the move. “I absolutely welcome it and I will accept it,” he said.
However, he declined to answer a direct question on whether there was a breach of food safety regulations but admitted there were “mistakes”. But he sought to reassure MPs that food produced by the company was safe and invited them to visit the factory.
On the undercover investigation, he said that the company had asked both ITN and The Guardian for the footage for further investigation but this was refused.
“We were very disappointed and upset when we saw the footage for the first time. We absolutely apologise for the doubt this has caused to our customers, consumers and employees. We want to reassure you that food safety is the highest of our standards and we are continuously committed to improve food safety every day,” he told MPs.
He admitted that there was CCTV at the West Bromwich plant but that there was none in the room where the alleged offending events were claimed to have taken place. However, he said that CCTV would be extended into this room and across all areas of all its other plants.
He also pledged to increase staff training and would now retrain them once a year for eight hours. Undercover workers would also be sent into factories to check standards.
Boparan also revealed that the company had hired a third party to conduct a forensic investigation into the alleged food safety incidents and he said this report would be passed on to the committee when it was concluded.
He admitted that the company faced a challenge to get retailers back on board and said he would personally be having meetings to ask them to start taking products from the site.
“This has been an experience which I am not used to. I don’t want to be back again. In my 30 years I continue to learn every day. Today I learned something new. I want to apologise to the committee for having to do this and I want to apologise to my consumers, customers and most of all my colleagues,” he said.
Chair of the committee, MP for Tiverton and Honiton Neil Parish said: “Mr Boparan, as you can tell from listening all day, I am quite a straightforward man and not only are you a big business but you have huge investments yourself in the poultry business. To have something like this it is not only not in the interest of the consumer, because they can’t have the confidence in poultry, but surely it is not in your financial interest either.”
He said he accepted Boparan’s word that he would resolve the issues.
“I believe you today that you are going to put that situation right,” Parish said.