SAMW blasts FSA for 'divisive' publication

A leading meat association has accused the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of being “dramatic, divisive and misleading” by publishing out-of-date information in what amounts to a “league table” of meat plants.

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) has reacted angrily to the FSA’s publication of its ‘cause for concern’ list, seeing it as “a deliberate act of aggression” against the meat industry.

The list, published by the FSA yesterday, contains the names of meat plants whose audit reports it says consistently fail to meet the required standards and who have been informed that they must put improvements in place to ensure that the required hygiene standards are met.

The names of eight different establishments – six cutting plants and two slaughterhouses – have been published on the FSA website, and the ‘cause for concern’ list will be published weekly on the FSA website from now on.

A spokesman for the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) said: “We have no issue with openness or keeping the public informed, but to do so in such a shoddy and provocative manner is extremely unprofessional.

“This latest publication, for example, neglects to point out that FSA inspectors have deemed the produce coming from these premises – and we can only speak for SAMW-member plants – remains fit for human consumption, according to the FSA’s own health standards. In talking about cause for concern, therefore, the only real fact is that these plants have been asked to make improvements. In reality, this is basically a league table of comparable plant results.

“The language used by FSA, however, is dramatic, divisive and misleading, leading many in the industry to assume this is, at best, a botched attempt at publishing league tables and, at worst, a deliberate act of aggression against a food industry which has been critical of the Agency’s excessive cost base.”

Giving the example of John Scott Meats, the one SAMW member company listed on the cause for concern list, the spokesperson said: “This plant was inspected in October 2011 – four months ago – and promptly began carrying out the required improvements as is normal practice in response to any such FSA audit request. However, the FSA has not revisited the plant for an updated audit since October 2011.

“In addition, the plant concerned only discovered it was on a ‘cause for concern’ list on 18 January 2012. It should also be stated that the plant remained fully approved for operation by the FSA throughout this period, even before the improvements were made. This seriously calls into question the use by the FSA of the term ‘cause for concern’.”

A spokesman for the FSA has defended its position, saying: “John Scott Meats Ltd had an on-site meeting with the FSA on 24 November 2011. The lead vet attended that meeting precisely because the plant was in ‘cause for concern’. The plant was informed of its status, but the main focus of the discussion was on addressing the deficiencies in the plant. At that meeting, the FSA and the FBO discussed a reasonable timescale to rectify the problems. We are pleased to see that, since then, the plant has made efforts to address the deficiencies highlighted.”

The FSA has previously stated that any food business operator (FBO) that is not satisfied with the outcome of an FSA audit does have the right of appeal. They have 28 days in which to appeal, and the audit won’t be published until there is an outcome to this appeal. If the audit shows that the plant falls within the ‘cause for concern’ category, they will appear on the list, but the FSA will write to them to let them know this is the case.

Audit reports from three cutting plants on the ‘cause for concern’ list were published last week, when the Agency published the first tranche of audit reports of approved meat plants in England, Scotland and Wales.

>FSA publishes cause for concern list