Industry calls for reining in of food inspectors new draconian powers

A leading business pressure group and a trade association are fighting new draconian powers that will be wielded by food inspectors due to come to force on 1 January 2006.

The new powers would allow a single council official to order the instant closure of a food business, be that a restaurant, food shop, meat or processing plant.

Rex Garratt, a spokesman for the Forum for Private Business said some environmental health officers have their own interpretation of the regulations.

"One of our members who has a processing plant was told by an EHO that his HACCPs was unacceptable even though it was based on 'safer food, better business guidelines issued by the Food Standards Agency. The EHO told our member that the 'safer food, better guidelines' were rubbish and should not be followed. Instead the officer told our member if they put his/her recommendations in place then they would be approved."

Mr Garratt argues that putting power into such individuals who interpret regulations themselves is dangerous. However, he said that his members did accept that at times such authority is needed when premises are in breach of regulations because of public health and hygiene are paramount.

Mr Garratt pointed out that adequate powers already exist to safeguard public health. "What we ask on behalf of our members whether there have been any cases where an application to magistrates has been made for emergency closure has ever put anybody in danger. We have seen no such evidence."

He argued that the only reason the new hygiene regulations are being introduced is because of financial economy. "Is it easier and simpler to give power to an EHO to save that officer time and trouble of making a proper application to the magistrates court? We see the hazard of an overzealous officer closing a business because of that person's misunderstanding of European regulations with no opportunity for the aggrieved party to seek compensation for loss of trading."

The proposals to extend powers under the EU Food Hygiene Regulations have also been slammed by the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers as a "threat to civil liberties" because they give operators no right of reply.

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