AIMS hits back at FSA claims

Processors have hit back at the Food Standards Agency (FSA), refuting its claims it was willing to settle a dispute prior to legal action being undertaken.

A recent court action, brought by 12 members of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), over issues surrounding the calculation of EU minima payments, saw FSA agree to recalculate the payments using the exchange rates applicable during 2010/11 and refund overpayments by 15 March. This could lead to refunds to industry to the tune of £1m, AIMS claimed.

However, in a statement following the settlement, an FSA spokesman said: “It is not the case that party ‘won’ in the High Court on Friday. The FSA is pleased the claimants have agreed to a situation which the FSA offered them last summer. The FSA recognised the exchange rate it had used to calculate the EU minima was based on an aggregate rate for 09/10, when we should have based this on the 10/11 exchange rate. We acknowledged this in August last year, so the subsequent litigation has been unnecessary.”

The FSA’s claims have angered AIMS, and in a statement, the organisation said: “The implication in the statement made by the FSA spokesman to the MTJ that the agency was willingly refunding meat inspection charges cannot be accepted.  

“When AIMS was first asked by its members whether they had to pay the additional charges it advised them that they should, but advised them that costs would fall the following year due to the strengthening of the pound. The FSA quickly rebuked AIMS for making this statement saying that the FSA board had agreed that charges could go up due to exchange rate fluctuations but could never come down. AIMS saw this as contrary to ministers’ instructions not to raise charges and it was the real catalyst for the legal action.

“When that legal action first commenced FSA made no offer to refund charges. They said that as the procedures they used had been spelt out to all operators in October 2010, operators had the opportunity to raise concerns then and were now too late.  

“It was not until permission to seek judicial review was applied for that FSA made any suggestion that it was content to carry out any re-calculation, and it was not until the day of the hearing that they agreed to make refunds to the two operators fronting the case; to extend the re-calculation for all those affected; and to re calculate the discount rate for the current year. Bearing in mind the above facts AIMS will be keeping the case open until all repayments have been made.”

In response, the FSA spokesman said: “The FSA made the offer to revise the Euro conversion rate in its response to the claim in August 2011. We heard nothing back until 27 January 2012 (the day of the hearing). We always planned that any revised conversion rate would apply to all relevant plants.”

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