Judge steps in to save Newby Foods
Published:  30 July, 2013

A Yorkshire meat company, faced with financial catastrophe by an EU-driven ban on its innovative products, has been saved from going out of business by a High Court judge.

Newby Foods, based in Newby Wiske, claimed its business was effectively destroyed when the Food Standards Agency (FSA) “keeled over” under pressure from the European Commission (EC) and suspended it from producing its beef and lamb products, and reclassified others.
 
The company claims that, although its products carried no health risks whatsoever, the FSA allowed itself to be “bullied” into kowtowing to EU threats that certain British meat products could be banned from European shelves if the UK did not comply.
 
Earlier this year, High Court judge Mr Justice Edwards Stewart referred the dispute to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a definitive ruling on whether the company’s products – which look like mince – could be sold as ‘meat preparations’.
 
But the ECJ can take many months to rule on such cases and, in the meantime, Newby Foods was left in commercial limbo, with the FSA having imposed a moratorium on the sale of many of its products in April last year.

Sell 51t of desinewed lamb
 
Last Friday (26 July), however, the same judge stepped in to save the company.
 
He opened the way for Newby Foods to sell 51 tonnes (t) of desinewed lamb, currently sitting in its cold store, for use in cat and dog food and ruled that it could continue to produce desinewed pork and poultry meats – and sell them as meat preparations – until the ECJ gave a decision.
 
The judge ordered the FSA to take no steps to enforce the moratorium in respect of Newby’s poultry and pork products, but stopped short of allowing it to use ruminant bones – from cattle and sheep – in its production process pending the word from Luxembourg.

Regulator that “keels over”
 
Newby says the FSA’s “cave-in” has cost 40 jobs and more than £5m in wasted investment.
 
The company’s counsel, Hugh Mercer QC, earlier told the court: “How does it come about that you have a regulator that keels over and accepts the view of a foreign body? It would not do it if it were any other body than the European Commission.”
 
Newby has developed an “innovative mechanised butchery process” whereby meat is removed from butchered bones by friction and then pressed through small holes to remove any bone, gristle or sinew. The resulting product was previously approved by the FSA as a “meat preparation”.
 
But the Commission refuses to recognise it as such and persuaded the FSA to adopt its interpretation of EU regulations. The FSA last year imposed the moratorium on Newby producing de-sinewed meat from beef and lamb bones.
 
A further order required Newby to label its pork and poultry products as “mechanically separated meat” (MSM) – which is less desirable and valuable because it cannot count towards the meat content of food products.

Major financial loss
 
The company says it lost £720,000 in the first six weeks after the decision came into effect. Mr Mercer argued the FSA’s decision to “close down an industry without due process” was unlawful, as was the Commission’s interpretation of EU regulations.
 
However, the FSA has insisted it acted lawfully and the decision brought the UK “into line” with the Commission’s stance. He added: “The FSA considered that if the Commission were to seek to impose safeguard measures of any description, that would have a catastrophic effect on the reputation to the UK meat industry.”
 
During the case, Mr Justice Edwards-Stewart, said he was “very sympathetic” to Newby, which has been licensed by the FSA since 2003. Last week, he added that the company had a “strong” case and was “likely to go out of business” unless the court came to its aid.




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