2 Sisters plant hygiene allegations ‘not a one-off’

Allegations against 2 Sisters are a “wake-up call for all accreditation firms” and the situation identified at the processor’s West Bromwich site was not an isolated incident, according to an Environment, Foods and Rural Affairs (EFRA) inquiry.

In its conclusions report, the EFRA Committee said: “The problems identified at the 2 Sisters plant at West Bromwich are not a one-off. The past record of the 2 Sisters Food Group is far from pristine and there are valid questions to be asked of its corporate governance structure. That being the case, we are concerned at the apparent laxity of the oversight of the Site D facility, an incredibly important part of the poultry food chain.”

The Committee also called into question the sector as a whole in terms of accreditation. “For an industry which takes pride in the quality of its produce, we were surprised to hear of the apparently patchwork nature of the accreditation process. It appears relatively simple for someone to game the system and hide infractions - by opting out of unannounced visits by the accreditors for example - and the lack of joined-up intelligence and knowledge-sharing seemingly presents many gaps into which misdemeanours can fall.”

It warned that there was “no systematic process for bringing together the various audits and assessments conducted by different accreditation and regulatory bodies; as such there is no single overarching view about standards in a particular plant or facility”, and that “unannounced visits are not completely a surprise”; even an unannounced visit gives processors a period of around 30 minutes' grace before the inspection begins and as a result “people will tend to be on their best behaviour”.

Chair of the Committee Neil Parish MP said accreditation firms needed to remove any loopholes that existed in the food sector. “Our inquiry should serve as a wake-up call for all accreditation firms and cause them to improve their processes and remove any loopholes that may exist, not just those discovered through our inquiry.

“Food supply chains are sensitive and easy to disrupt when retailers and consumers lose confidence in food quality or safety. Large producers and retailers have a responsibility to protect, rather than undermine, the UK’s food producers.”

The inquiry came following allegations by The Guardian and ITV News, which revealed poor hygiene standards and the altering of food safety records. These allegations led to the site being closed temporarily for over a month.

As part of the inquiry, 2 Sisters’ Ranjit Singh Boparan appeared in front of the Committee and pledged to improve standards. The Committee confirmed that Boparan later put these commitments in writing. They are:

  • Placing a full time FSA inspector in West Bromwich poultry plant (now in situ) as well all other poultry plants (w/c 13 November).
  • Sharing the forensic report analysing The Guardian/ITN footage with the Committee.
  • Inviting the Committee to visit a 2 Sisters Food Group plant, announced or unannounced.
  • Installing CCTV with complete coverage in all poultry plants (within 120 days), and establishing a CCTV committee.
  • Implanting mystery workers into all poultry factories by the end of January 2018.
  • Sharing progress on the above with the Committee.

Parish praised Boparan for putting these commitments in writing but added that the Committee would be “closely monitoring their implementation with a view to investigating further if required”.

The promise of these measures has led Marks & Spencer (M&S), Aldi and Tesco to once again accept orders from the plant.

FSA funding

The Committee report also expressed concern over the Food Standards Agency (FSA), suggesting that it didn’t have the financial resources to investigate incidents adequately and recommended that the Treasury step in.

“The Food Standards Agency Food Crime Unit was initially established as an intelligence-gathering unit. The Food Standards Agency is keen to upgrade its role to include an investigatory function. We are concerned at the suggestion from the FSA that the funding necessary to complete this upgrade has not been immediately forthcoming from the Treasury and is instead seemingly stuck in limbo. We would like to assume that this recent incident, and our subsequent inquiry, has provided the impetus for the necessary funding to be made available. We recommend that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency confirm to us in response to this report that this is the case and the required funds have been released.”

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