The fine, the highest-ever handed out by the FSA to a meat producer, was given for non-compliance with the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE) Regulations 2010.
During an inspection at its Preston site, an FSA representative found a sheep without a fully-removed spleen and a cow that had not had its spinal cord fully removed. The final charge was for two sheep heads with permanent incisors erupted that were incorrectly identified as lambs and therefore destined for human consumption instead of disposal.
According to the FSA, TSE regulations help to reduce risk from a group of brain diseases that cattle, sheep and goats are vulnerable to by requiring correct removal and disposal of specific parts of those animals before they enter the food chain. The most widely recognised of these diseases is BSE in cattle, which has been linked to the human TSE diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Amendments to the regulations made in July 2018, after the Dunbia Preston inspection, also mean that the spleen is no longer classified as a specified risk material in sheep of any age.
Dunbia pleaded guilty to the offences and was given a £250,000 fine and ordered to pay £16,121.42 prosecution costs and a victim surcharge of £170.
The judgement was issued on Monday 25 March following a sentencing hearing which took place at Preston Crown Court on Monday 11 March.
Dr Colin Sullivan, chief operating officer at the FSA, said: “This very significant fine underlines just how seriously breaches of these regulations are taken.
“It is vitally important for consumers and the wider industry that they are followed and public health is protected. The FSA will continue to investigate and prosecute any food businesses we find failing to uphold them.
“However, I should put on record that since the start of court proceedings Dunbia has signed up to our enhanced assurance initiative which involves working more closely with the company using data from a range of different audits and other data to help demonstrate compliance with official controls.”
In response to the verdict, a Dunbia spokesperson told Food Manufacture: “Dunbia apologises for the unintentional historic 2016/17 lapses at its Preston facility that led to this case being taken by the Food Standards Agency. While recognising human error was the cause, the controls in place ensured that none of the meat products concerned entered the food chain.
“The court’s findings acknowledge that enhanced operating procedures have been implemented at the facility and that it is clear that the percentage of breaches was minimal, when contrasted with the number of animals processed.
“We are committed to continued close collaboration with the FSA to maintain the highest food safety standards.”