FSA slammed over dropped prosecution against abattoir workers

A farming lawyer has accused The Food Standards Agency (FSA) of being “over-zealous” in charging five horse abattoir workers, in case which has now been dropped due to insufficient evidence.

The FSA reported it had dropped charges against five workers at the Red Lion Abattoir near Nantwich. The defendants were due to stand trial on 31 October 2014 at Chester Crown Court for failing to comply with regulation for horses entering the food chain. The charges relating to six horses owned by High Peak Meat exports between 24 January and 16 April 2013.

David Kirwan, of law firm Kirwans, who represented two of the five defendants slammed the FSA for the “deeply flawed” prosecution. He said: “The FSA responded to the hysteria of the horsemeat scandal with undue haste, perhaps because of political and public pressure. They got it wrong in this case with a deeply flawed, unsustainable prosecution in the name of public health. This case had nothing to do with horsemeat ending up on British dinner tables.

“This over-zealous and bungling FSA investigation highlights how the food regulatory body has little grasp of legislation or the issues facing the farming industry – yet at times they are gung-ho with enforcement and prosecution.

“The European Union legislation was misused and misinterpreted by the FSA, as we were confident of establishing in court.”

Horse passports were introduced in 2005, as a precaution against harmful drugs such as bute entering the food chain. However, they are issued by more than 70 organisations and have been criticised for being inconsistent.

Workers at the Red Lion abattoir and the FSA shared the task of checking horse passports for irregularities, and horses were slaughtered if documents were not in order.

John Young, one of the defendants and former senior manager at the Meat Hygiene Service and FSA, was also charged with allowing, causing or permitting a horse that had a detention notice served on it to be removed from the premises by its owner. Young, who has spoken out against the FSA and Defra for being “asleep at the wheel” during the horsemeat scandal, said the FSA’s response to the incident at Red Lion was “malicious” and a “deliberate attempt to sabotage” him.

An FSA spokesperson told Meatinfo.co.uk the cases did not meet “strict criteria”: “The FSA has a team of experienced prosecution lawyers who review cases independently and apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors when deciding whether a case should be prosecuted. We therefore prosecute a select number of cases which meet this strict criteria.

“However, we have an ongoing duty to keep cases under review. If it is concluded, at any stage of the case, that either there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction or that it is no longer in the public interest to prosecute the case, we will take steps to stop the prosecution.”

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