The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) issued a notice to Summers Poultry Products withdrawing the plant’s approval to operate as a poultry slaughterhouse in September 2011. Although the plant had the right to appeal the decision, the FSA had recently amended to the Official Feed and Food Controls regulation preventing businesses from operating while appealing against decisions to remove or refuse approval. However, Summers sought and obtained an injunction to suspend the terms of the notice pending a judicial review into whether the FSA acted lawfully. Although the review was dismissed by the High Court in July, the FSA conceded to allow the plant to remain open while it pursued the right to appeal through the magistrates court.
On Wednesday, the judge ruled in favour of Summers Poultry Products.
Jamie Foster, solicitor advocate at Clarke Willmott who acted for Summers Poultry, said: “There was no public health risk associated with this plant at any time. We felt it was not a plant that should have had its approval removed.”
He pointed out that the plant had been audited by the BRC several times during the course of proceedings and had always received an A grade BRC accreditation.
He said that on a point of law, the FSA had not able to contest the appeal because its own evidence confirmed that the plant was well run at the time of the hearing. He said it had misunderstood the law, explaining that the court had to consider the state of the plant at the time of hearing, rather than at the time of the original decision. “At the time of the hearing, the evidence was that the plant was very well run and should have approval,” he said.
The judge said: “Plainly, as I have heard no evidence, I make no findings as to whether or not the circumstances at the time justified the original decisions of the FSA.”
The FSA had previously said that the decision to withdraw the license was made because “the business consistently failed to satisfy the FSA that serious deficiencies in its operations could be resolved.”
Commenting on the outcome of the appeal, a spokesman said: “The FSA is pleased that eventually it has been possible to improve the standards at Summers Poultry Products, but it is very disappointing that it took so much time, effort and expensive court proceedings to achieve this. The fact that the plant is much improved since we decided to withdraw approval back in September 2011 shows the benefit of the FSA’s action.”