Cause for concern publication slammed

A decision to publish the names of processors and abattoirs on the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) controversial cause for concern list has been slammed by an industry organisation.

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) in an open letter claims the turnaround highlights an “agency that is out of control and at war with itself”.

However, the FSA has hit back saying that its hands were tied following a Freedom of Information request to publish the list of those plants.

The government watchdog revealed the names of companies on its list last week. But earlier this year, a request to do the same by its chief executive Tim Smith was questioned at a heated board meeting. There, the FSA’s board decided to have a paper on the legality of the move and said it would discuss the matter at its next meeting.

In the letter, AIMS claims that the turnaround resembles an episode of ‘Yes Minister’.

It states: “Anyone who watched the public board meeting on 25 January will be aware that, highly unusually, the FSA board decided to question the executive’s approach to the publication of this list. The board was clearly not impressed with Tim Smith and Lord Rooker’s plan to publish the list and provide the reasons why the list should be published to the board as an afterthought.

“Board members were clear that they wished to be provided with evidence of how the lists were compiled and why a food business operator’s (FBO) name would end up on the list, as well as being provided with a solid legal opinion on what action could be taken against the agency in regard to publication, before rubber stamping the executive’s decision to publish the list on the website.”

The AIMS letter also questions the need for a cause for concern list. It says: “The first thing we learn is that none of the businesses on the list poses an immediate risk to public health. This is made clear by a Q&A section of the Agency website that also helpfully points out that the publication of the list was not just a desperate knee-jerk reaction to a recent report by Professor Pennington.

“So the list is not to identify FBOs that pose a current risk and it is not a reaction to a report that criticised the agency’s approach to enforcement. It is also not a list of businesses that have been prosecuted or subject to legitimate enforcement action by the agency.”

In response to the letter, the FSA said it had never claimed that those plants on the cause for concern list “posed an immediate threat to human health”.

In a statement, the FSA said: “The fact that so few plants are now a cause for concern clearly shows that the vast majority of businesses are compliant, and those that were in this category, but aren’t any longer, have demonstrated they can do what is necessary to improve and comply with hygiene requirements.

“When it comes to the Freedom of Information Act, the FSA cannot pick and choose whether it obeys it or not and has released this information in accordance with the Act, just as we have done before.”

>> FSA publishes cause for concern abattoir list

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