February 13, 2012

Meat supplier found guilty after Food Standards Agency prosecution

On Tuesday 13 February 2012, the Food Standards Agency (“FSA”) secured a conviction at the Old Bailey in London against A C Hopkins (Taunton) Ltd, a meat supply company for an offence under the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006.

The facts of the case were that the company was alleged to have breached the European Union Hygiene Regulations by failing to ensure that the pig carcasses it delivered to Smithfield Market were immediately chilled in the slaughterhouse so as to ensure that the meat remained no more than 7°C throughout the period of transportation.

Having arrived at the market, the temperature of the carcasses was checked by an FSA officer and 12 were found not to comply with the Regulations, recording temperatures of between 11.6°C and 14.6°C.

The FSA relied on expert evidence to perform a back-calculation of the temperatures to demonstrate that it was not possible for the temperature of the meat to have risen after its delivery to Smithfield Market.

The company denied the charge but was convicted by a jury yesterday following a six day trial. The Judge adjourned sentence until mid-April requesting further details from the FSA of the actual and potential consequences of the failures.

This case is the latest prosecution by the FSA, an agency which in the past has been slower than many other regulators to take the ultimate step and bring criminal charges. Indeed, the Agency itself recently questioned the reason for what it considered to be the “low number of prosecutions” in earlier years. However, all of this appears to be changing.

In his November 2011 report, Andrew Rhodes, Director of Operations at the FSA provided a comparative analysis of enforcement trends. These showed more than a 10% increase in enforcement action taken by the FSA in 2010/11 compared with the previous year but of greatest significance is the change in the types of enforcement action taken. The statistics show increases of more than 59% in the use of suspensions/revocations of licences; 25% in the number of cautions issued; and 5% in the number of prosecutions brought.

Managing any regulatory intervention from the very beginning is key to achieving the most favourable outcome and avoiding a prosecution which can often bring with it not only huge cost but reputational damage which is more difficult to overcome. Our specialist regulatory team has significant experience and expertise in dealing with a wide range of regulatory matters and is on hand 24 hours a day to assist your company.