Horsegate - the considered view of the AIMS Board of Directors

Norman BagleyThe sorry saga of ‘Horsegate’ may now have staggered to a conclusion. Farmbox pleaded guilty to having goat trim and other low value remnants labelled as mutton or lamb trim. None of this product had been sold as such and it had already been identified by the plant as incorrectly labelled and put aside. Enquiries demonstrated that, at that time, not a single plant in the UK distinguished small volumes of goat from mutton. 

Repeated Food Standards Agency (FSA) audits of the Farmbox operation had identified no problems of this nature. We question why this business was ruined because of a victimless simple mistake, involving no financial gain? We also question whether the FSA staff who failed to assist the plant by neglecting to identify and warn of this problem during many routine audits have been dismissed or disciplined?

In Court the owner of the business received a conditional discharge, indicating that he had no criminal or moral culpability. The manager received no substantive penalty, no fine and no costs, merely a very short suspended sentence. This speaks for itself, yet another example of the Courts protecting citizens from the incompetence and vindictiveness of FSA.

It should be recognised that FSA originally raided Farmbox without a shred of credible evidence that the business was involved in substituting horse for beef. It is likely that the FSA senior management who ordered the raid did not even know that the business was cutting up entirely legitimate horse carcases for export. It appears they did not even consult FSA staff who had attended the plant. And yet the same FSA senior management libelled Farmbox on prime time TV with baseless allegations, unsupported by any evidence, that they had supplied minced beef adulterated with horse, which was completely untrue. As a result, the business was needlessly ruined.

The chief operating officer at FSA at the time is now elsewhere in senior government service. We question whether senior FSA management, still in senior posts, who took the decision to raid Farmbox against professional advice, have been disciplined or dismissed? The destruction of businesses completely innocent of involvement in the horse meat scandal by senior management of FSA is inexcusable and unforgivable. FSA’s actions, not any fault of the proprietors, defrauded both the proprietors and the creditors of these businesses at a cost of £millions. They also brought the Agency into serious disrepute. So we question how does FSA propose to compensate these individuals, as the debacle occurred without a shred of evidence of any wrong doing involving horse meat, FSA’s own audits indicating compliance?

Conversely, FSA took no action whatsoever against the only company which was implicated in the adulteration of horse meat in the UK. Why? What possible reason could they have had to devote their efforts only to the destruction of the businesses of those who were not involved?

Many months before the ‘Horsegate’ scandal broke, the Turner family drew the attention of FSA and Defra repeatedly, in writing and in person to what was happening in Ireland. More than 40,000 horses had gone missing in Ireland and must therefore have been presumed to have been involved in illegal substitution, as they were not legitimately exported. FSA ignored these allegations, documented in minute detail with names and addresses, and took no action whatsoever. FSA was therefore warned in advance in writing of what was occurring, long before the media storm. Again we question whether the senior management who committed this negligent act have been disciplined? Why has FSA not publicly admitted to this failure to act?

The actions of FSA closed down the Turner abattoir, ruining the business and the individuals and yet they (Turners) were acquitted of all criminal charges. It is believed that ruining the business was a deliberate act to prevent the Turner family, by fears of breach of sub judice rules, revealing to Professor Elliot’s enquiry that FSA had received comprehensive prior warning of the horse issue. This renders Professor Elliot’s conclusion that FSA received inadequate intelligence as completely void, because FSA in fact had comprehensive and entirely accurate prior warning.

As a result of the closure of Turner’s abattoir, thousands of horses and ponies stand neglected and valueless in fields. Will the senior management of FSA, particular individuals who were responsible for the closure of the plant to further or protect their own careers, be held to account for this completely unnecessary animal welfare and economic catastrophe?

We now know the facts. Peter Boddy, who only slaughtered around 40 horses in the relevant year, in contrast to more than 40,000 fraudulently sold by Irish meat traders, was guilty of nothing other than poor paperwork. Turners were guilty of no crime and were destroyed for speaking the truth to the authorities. Farmbox were categorically not involved in any wrongdoing involving horse meat.

These private citizens lost everything. And so we question when will the management of FSA who ruined them be held to account? Industry has no remedy against FSA because no Government Minister is responsible for FSA. Citizens have no recourse against oppressive and vindictive conduct by this public body. How long will FSA management be permitted to act with impunity as if they are above the Law?

How many millions did this futile and abortive investigation cost the taxpayer? In an age of so called austerity when cost effectiveness and efficiency are supposed to be the byword for public sector survival, do we really need FSA, Public Health England, Department of Health and Defra parking their tanks on each other’s lawns for the right to be the protector of public and animal health. The inefficiency and culture of self-preservation are a scandal. The bonfire needs to start here.

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