The Food Standards Agency has defended its approach to the Russell Hume scandal as “proportionate” after the collapsed meat supplier attacked the regulator for creating “impossible trading conditions for us”.
Russell Hume announced it had gone into administration yesterday, with more than 300 jobs set to be lost, and placed much of the blame over its demise squarely at the FSA’s door.
FSA and Food Standards Scotland enforcement action at the supplier had led the business to make the “heart-breaking” decision to call in KPMG as administrators, a statement by Russell Hume directors said.
“We will continue to work with the FSA with regards to the issues it raised, but we still feel its action has been out of all proportion to the concerns it says it has identified,” they added.
“Had it worked more closely with us in the crucial early stages of the situation, then more than 300 jobs may not have been lost. The fact that its investigations have become industry-wide, and a number of other firms have also had issues, strongly suggests there is a lack of clarity in the industry and in current FSA guidelines.”
But in a joint statement by the FSA and FSS, the regulators insisted it took “proportionate action based on serious and widespread problems that were found at Russell Hume”.
The statement added: “This involved stopping production at their sites and a voluntary withdrawal of affected products was initiated by the business.
“We do not take these decisions lightly and we recognise this will be a worrying time for employees and their families. It is for food businesses to ensure the food they produce is safe and our role is to provide assurances that a business is meeting its responsibilities.
“Since then we have been working with the company to get assurances that their food safety management system met the legal requirements. As a result the Liverpool site was given permission to resume production on 5 February. Our investigation into Russell Hume remains ongoing.”
News of Russell Hume’s fall into administration follows claims made in an ITV report last week that the company had sold foreign beef as British.
Citing the evidence of a whistleblower, the report claimed the supplier had been falsifying the traceability of imported beef and marketing it as British.
The FSA’s investigation into Russell Hume had so far been limited to concerns over use-by labelling.
The regulator declined to comment specifically on the claims made in the ITV News report and reiterated its focus was on use-by labelling, while Russell Hume said it “did not recognise the allegations made in the programme”.