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UK regulators call for nationwide review of meat-cutting plants

Great Britain’s food regulators are calling for a nationwide review of all meat-cutting plants after the discovery of serious incidents at production facilities of two major suppliers, 2 Sisters Food Group and Russell Hume.

The announcement came just days after the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was criticized by a parliamentary committee for failing to take definitive action to improve standards following an undercover investigation last year by The Guardian and ITV. The Guardian reported the nationwide review on Feb. 1.

Further, the government has pledged to require closed-circuit television cameras to be installed in all meat cutting plants.

In the wake of the investigation, 2 Sisters, the country’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken, shut its West Bromwich chicken site for five weeks this past autumn for staff retraining.

In January, Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant chain and Wetherspoon pubs were among businesses caught up in a meat recall scandal at Russell Hume when FSA inspectors said they had found serious issues during a surprise visit to the company’s Birmingham premises on Jan. 12. Since then, meat production has been suspended at Russell Hume plants, the Guardian reports.

FSA Chairwoman Heather Hancock and Food Standards Scotland Chairman Ross Finnie issued a joint statement, saying: “In the last six months the FSA and FSS have faced two serious incidents involving major players in the meat sector. People rightly expect food businesses to keep to the rules, rules designed to keep consumers safe and to sustain public trust in food – and food businesses have a duty to follow the regulations.”

“In the light of these recent incidents,” the statement continued, “the FSA and FSS will be taking forward reviews of cutting plants and cold stores used for meat. Further details will be published later this month and the results will be fully available to the public.”

An investigation into meat processing factories was expected, The Guardian reported, but the scale of the problems that have emerged since September prompted regulators to expedite the launch.

Last year’s hearings into 2 Sisters by Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee were a direct response to The Guardian and ITV undercover footage from 2 Sister’s West Bromwich chicken plant, The Guardian reports. The footage showed poultry being dropped on the floor and returned to the production line, as well as an instance of labels recording the slaughter dates of birds being changed.

2 Sisters has denied the footage showed any food safety breaches and said it temporarily suspended production three days later because of process failures, adding that its “internal investigation has shown some isolated instances of non-compliance with our own quality management systems.”

Said a spokesman for 2 Sisters: “We welcome any further reviews the FSA would wish to carry out at all cutting facilities in the UK.”

The FSA said its investigation into Russell Hume includes examining the “extended use of ‘use by’ dates, and the food safety management system that the business has in place.” The regulator also launched its own, ongoing investigation into 2 Sisters.

“Our investigation into the major non-compliances we found at the Russell Hume plants in England and Scotland is intensifying,” said Jason Feeney, chief executive of the FSA.

“We have already stopped these plants producing meat products, have ensured the withdrawal and disposal of the products and now we are looking at the root cause of the incident and any culpability.”

Feeney said there is no indication people have gotten sick from eating meat supplied by Russell Hume.

The company did not respond to invitations from The Guardian to comment.

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