Bullying claim sparks anger

Meat industry representatives have reacted furiously to claims by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that there is a culture of bullying and harassment in some sectors of 
the industry.

In an exclusive interview with Meat Trades Journal (November 25 issue, page 8), FSA chief executive Tim Smith said that, in a small percentage of plants, there is “systematic and routine bullying and harassing” of FSA staff, which is both physical and verbal in nature. 

Smith said the FSA had launched a campaign to raise awareness among staff and will operate a “zero tolerance” policy on bullying and harassment. He warned that the FSA would use the ultimate sanction of removing staff, so the plant cannot operate, if things got bad enough, and he added that unless bullying and harassment were stamped out, there could be a barrier to self-regulation.

“It is unfortunate, because it is a bad apple problem. It is the contamination of the reputation of the industry by a very small number of people that potentially damages progress being made by the majority,” he said.

In response, British Meat Processors Association director Stephen Rossides said: “Bullying and harassment of FSA staff is never acceptable — even if it occurs in a small minority of plants. All food business operators should take steps to ensure safe, secure and harmonious working conditions for both plant and FSA staff.”

However, he added that it would “be very unfair to tarnish the reputation of good operators or to inhibit progress towards earned recognition by highly performing plants because of the sins of others”.

Norman Bagley, director of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), accused the FSA of “grossly exaggerating” the issue

.“A recent survey carried out by the FSA revealed poor working relationships between FSA staff and operators in nearly half of plants, which suggests the ‘bad apple’ theory is wrong,” he said. “We believe the problem is mainly to do with the inexperience of many FSA officials exasperating operators.

"Operators have little confidence in official complaints about FSA staff behaviour, given that these are carried out by internal FSA staff with predictable outcomes. A proper complaints system would have some independent input to give it credibility.”

Stephen Lomax, legal advisor for AIMS, went even further, saying: “AIMS believes a high percentage of complaints of harassment and bullying are retaliatory, in response to a complaint about the conduct of FSA staff,” he said. He also claimed that the FSA almost always rejected allegations of bad behaviour by FSA staff. “It is dual standard,” he said.

AIMS recently wrote to Lord Rooker raising concern over bullying and harassment allegations. The letter gave three examples where an allegation of bullying or harassment came after a plant operator had lodged a formal complaint about the behaviour of FSA staff.

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