2 sisters food safety incident should act as ‘wake-up call’

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

The alleged food safety breaches at 2 Sister’s West Bromwich plant should serve as a ‘wake-up call’
The alleged food safety breaches at 2 Sister’s West Bromwich plant should serve as a ‘wake-up call’

Related tags: Food standards agency, Food safety

The alleged food safety incident at 2 Sisters Food Group’s West Bromwich chicken cutting plant was not a “one-off” for the company and should act as a “wake-up call” for food regulators and accreditation services, according to a House of Commons report.

The report, which followed an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee inquiry into the poultry processor last month, claimed 2 Sisters’ track record was “far from pristine”. ​It said questions “needed to be asked”​ of its corporate governance structure.

EFRA also found that there was no systematic process for bringing together the various audit and assessments conducted by different accreditation and regulatory bodies. This led to no single overarching view about standards in a particular plant or facility.

The report also found that unannounced visits were not a surprise, with processors given 30 minutes grace before an inspection began. As a result, EFRA found that people tended to be on “their best behaviour”, ​giving an inaccurate picture of the day-to-day operations at a site.

The EFRA committee expressed surprise at the patchwork nature of the accreditation service, despite the industry taking pride in the quality of its products.

‘Game the system and hide infractions’

FSA response to the report

Responding to the EFRA committee report, an FSA spokesman said: 

“The FSA welcomes the findings of the EFRA select committee and will make a formal response in due course.

“We are continuing to investigate the allegations made by ITV and The Guardian concerning the 2 Sisters poultry plant in West Bromwich and will publish our findings when the work is completed.”

“It appears relatively simple for someone to game the system and hide infractions – by opting out of unannounced visits by the accreditors, for example,” ​said EFRA.

“The lack of joined up intelligence and knowledge sharing seemingly presents many gaps into which misdemeanours can fall.”

The report also noted that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) wanted its Food Crime Unit to take on investigatory powers in addition to collecting intelligence, but lacked the funding to do so.

EFRA argued that the incident at 2 Sisters, and subsequent inquiries, should motivate the treasury to providing the extra funds the FSA needed.  

‘Serve as a wake-up call’

Commenting on the report, EFRA chair Neil Parish said: “Our inquiry should serve as a wake-up call for all accreditation firms and cause them to improve their processes and remove any loopholes that may exist, not just those discovered through our inquiry.

“Food supply chains are sensitive and easy to disrupt when retailers and consumers lose confidence in food quality or safety. Large producers and retailers have a responsibility to protect, rather than undermine, the UK’s food producers.”

2 Sisters has since provided EFRA with a list of food safety commitments, including installing closed circuit television (CCTV), at its factories (see box below).

Commenting on the report, a 2 Sisters spokesman said: “We note the content of the report and look forward to updating the committee on progress in the New Year.”

2 Sisters’ commitments to EFRA

  1. Placing a full-time FSA inspector in West Bromwich poultry plant (now in situ) as well all other poultry plants (week commencing November 13). 
  2. Sharing its in-house forensic report with the EFRA committee analysing the Guardian/ITN footage, which exposed the alleged food safety failures.
  3. Inviting the EFRA committee to visit a 2 Sisters Food Group plant, announced or unannounced.
  4. Installing CCTV with complete coverage in all poultry plants (within 120 days), and establishing a CCTV committee.
  5. Implanting mystery workers into all poultry factories by the end of January 2018.
  6. Sharing progress on the above with the EFRA committee.

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Inspecting quality and good practice ?

Posted by Brian Mullan,

Good morning James , reading this report the commitments made seem to be about inspection and compliance checking rather than any internal actions addressing the key drives behind the allegations. In my hard won experience you can't inspect quality into a factory . I do think this opens up a good discussion on self regulation and potential " capture " in our industry.

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Posted by Rajneesh,

I am very much agreed with the EFRA findings. It become very easy for large manufacturer to do these tricks and befooled the public and agencies. Also, some of the auditors/regulators don't do their job properly. They become much complacent with the documentation. Food fraud is the biggest concern in the industry and most of the companies are doing it deliberately and being supported by their management. Need to nail this culture and need to have tough regulations and hefty plenty in place for wrongdoings.

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