The names of eight different establishments – six cutting plants and two slaughterhouses – have been published on the FSA website. However, the FSA has reiterated its view that the plants on the list do not pose an immediate threat to human health.
Tim Smith, chief executive of the FSA, said: “Publication of the cause for concern list is our latest commitment to presenting our work in the public domain. We think it’s important to highlight plants that continue to give us concern. Our staff work to ensure that meat is safe to eat and they continue to drive up standards. 148 meat plants have appeared on the list since it began in October 2009, and the number currently stands at eight. This demonstrates that plants can make improvements, and those on the list need to improve their performance, get themselves out of cause for concern, and then stay out.
“If our inspectors decided that hygiene standards in a plant are so poor that public health could be at imminent risk, we would immediately stop that plant from operating. However, for those businesses that could improve quickly by following our advice, we hope that publication of this list will push them to raise their game and get off the list.’
An FSA spokesman confirmed that any food business operator (FBO) that is not satisfied with the outcome of an FSA audit does have the right of appeal. They have 28 days in which to do so, and the audit won’t be published until the appeal outcome has been decided. If the audit shows that the plant falls within the cause for concern category, they will appear on the list, but the FSA will write to them to let them know this is the case.
It confirmed that the process was developed in response to a report on an E.coli outbreak in Wales in 2005, which recommended that there needed to be improved management oversight of poorer performing meat plants.
However, Norman Bagley, policy director for the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) questioned this assertion. He said: “I suspect it is just the FSA’s response to the widespread criticism it has had of its flawed audit system. It certainly has little to do with food safety.”
The FSA first published a cause for concern list in March 2011 following a Freedom of Information request to publish the plants on the list at the time. However, the matter had already been debated at a board meeting in January, when the FSA board questioned its own executive’s stance on publication, wishing 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.
The Agency was heavily criticised by the industry for the U-turn, with AIMS commenting that it showed the FSA was “out of control and at war with itself”.
The move comes only a week after the Agency went ahead with the publication if all audit reports of approved meat plants in England, Scotland and Wales, despite the industry calling for a complete overhaul of the auditing system.