Meat hygiene prosecution 'waste of money', says AIMS

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) has described the prosecution of a meat company for breaching food hygiene regulations as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

AC Hopkins (Taunton) was fined £3,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 costs after being found guilty of failing to ensure that meat was kept chilled throughout the food chain.

However, the Food Standards Agency, which initiated the proceedings, was not awarded full costs by the court. AIMS argued that public money had therefore been wasted for what it described as a “technical infringement”.

“The taxpayer has had to pay out an awful lot of money for a technical offence, which posed no risk to public health. If the carcases had been at a butcher’s shop, there wouldn’t have been an offence, as FSA guidance exempts fresh meat from temperature control,” said Peter Hewson of AIMS.

AC Hopkins (Taunton) was found guilty after a six-day trial at the Old Bailey in London. The court heard that carcases delivered to London Smithfield Market had been found to be in excess of 7°C, with recorded temperatures of between 11.6°C and 14.6°C. Expert evidence was used to support the FSA’s contention that the meat could not have achieved those temperatures after arrival at Smithfield Market.

The FSA welcomed the verdict and said it would always consider prosecution where there was evidence that public health was being put at risk.

Andrew Rhodes, director of operations at the FSA, said: “This case highlights the responsibilities food businesses and legislators have to ensure that food law is complied with. Professor Hugh Pennington, in his 2009 report on the E.coli outbreak in Wales, made the point that legislative requirements are not optional. Food businesses cannot decide what they will or will not comply with, just as legislators such as the FSA cannot pick and choose which parts of legislation we enforce or not.

“The rules are there to protect public health, and must always be taken seriously, as the court agreed. The vast majority of meat businesses do things correctly, so there is little defence for the minority who do not comply with the law.”

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