FSA Board gives Pennington reaction

The Board of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has spelt out a number of lessons that need to be learnt from the Welsh E.coli outbreak and the Irish dioxin scare.

In its open board meeting, the FSA Board and officials said that inspections needed to be much tougher, inspectors need to act more like police and light-touch regulation needs to be thrown out of the window. The board also agreed on a number of modernising proposals for the Meat Hygiene Service, with hygiene charges proposed to be increased by 4%.

Speaking on the recall of Irish pork in December last year, which occurred over a weekend, FSA chief executive Tim Smith said reaction times needs to be quicker: We need to be much sharper on what we do on a Saturday than we are on a Wednesday.

Speaking on the aftermath of the Pennington Report on the E.coli outbreak in South Wales in 2005, he added: We are moving from tick boxes and more to investigatory police work. If something smells wrong, it probably is.

Board member and Welsh Food Advisory Committee chair John Spence added that light-touch regulation needed to be consigned to a bin, which says light-touch regulation does not work. Spence also said simple answers were needed, such as is everyone satisfied that all slaughter houses are to standard?

Margaret Gilmore, board member and journalist, said she was shocked that some aspects of the Pennington Report were so damning and that lessons had not been learnt from the 1990s. If we do not make these changes now, this [other fatalities] could happen again.

Board chair Dame Deirdre Hutton said: I do not think there has been any sense that this board wants light-touch regulation. I want to knock on the head the idea that this board wants light touch. Unannounced inspections were cited as an example and although chief executive Tim Smith praised the Pennington Report, he gave some examples where it could have gone further, such as the total separation of raw and cooked meats in commercial meat enterprises.

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