FSA 'didn't stand up for UK interests over DSM', say MPs

MPs have criticised the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for “rolling over and having its tummy tickled” by the European Commission in its role over the ban of desinewed meat (DSM).

The FSA was grilled by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee on Tuesday (15 May) about its role in the European Commission issuing a moratorium on DSM. From 26 May, British processors will have to stop producing DSM from ruminant bones, while DSM from pigs and poultry will have to be labelled mechanically separated meat (MSM).

The MPs said that the FSA had not stood up for British meat processor or British consumers and accused it of gold-plating. They accepted the FSA’s assertion that there was a discernible difference between DSM and MSM, but demanded to know why the FSA had not legally challenged the Commission on this point, rather than accept the moratorium. It said that companies affected by the decision might have a legal case against the FSA and that it might be possible for industry to launch a judicial review against the FSA’s decision.   

They said that 40 people have lost their positions at Newby Foods, which is one of the largest European producers of DSM.

The FSA admitted it had been taken aback by the “disproportionate reaction” of the European Commission, and the speed and severity of its reaction. It insisted that DSM is entirely safe and that the innovation was developed as a sensible method to get meat off the carcase.

FSA chief executive Tim Smith defended the FSA saying that having been faced with the choice of an immediate ban (after 5 days) or safe-guarding measures which would put the meat industry into “financial meltdown”, the FSA had sought to buy time by complying with the EU request. He said that it was obliged to follow the law but did not rule out the possibility of recommending that the UK government press for legal action against the Commission, and that the FSA was currently “considering” this option.

Smith accused the Commission of ignoring the risk-based scientific evidence but that the threat of imposing punitive measures on the UK could risk a return to the situation following the beef ban, with hugely damaging effects on the industry. While he said that he could not be certain that DSM from processors across Europe would not come into the UK, he understood that the EU was writing to other member states to ensure that other member states also comply with the decision.

He said: “We have to continue to take advice as to whether or not there is a legal case to be taken by the UK, or by the representative businesses that were affected by this, against the Commission. For the time being, what we have been doing is trying to minimise the damage to the industry by trying to negotiate just exactly what it is that it is trying to stop happening.

“There were no public health concerns about this product and we did not seek to gold plate.”

>EU bans production of desinewed meat