A report about contaminated meat in the United Kingdom by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a London-based nonprofit that says it exists to “expose wrongs and spark change” lacks accuracy, according to the the UK’s Food Standards Agency.
“Recent media reports of contaminated meat do not give the complete picture on the condition of meat entering the food chain, or on the work done by the FSA to ensure that the meat we eat is safe,” according to the agency’s response to the Feb. 20 report.
Based on their analysis of government audits of more than 300 abattoirs, or slaughterhouses, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the journalists found “major hygiene failings” at one out of every four establishments.
“The failings could expose consumers to serious food poisoning illnesses such as E. coli, Salmonella or Campylobacter. The true situation may be even worse,” the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported. It also said official FSA records were falsified to conceal the true levels of meat contamination at an abattoir processing pigs, cattle and sheep.
The report said a whistleblower claimed FSA data was mis-recorded to mask poor hygiene practices. It said that opens the possibility of “dirty meat” entering the food chain.
FSA issued a same-day response.
“Our meat hygiene inspectors and official veterinarians inspect every red meat and poultry carcass for visible contamination — 99.57 percent of them pass the test. The remaining 0.43 percent is rejected and passed back to the food business, and they have to rectify the problem. This is the work that our staff do day in, day out, 365 days a year. If it doesn’t pass, then it does not get a health mark and it does not enter the human food chain,” according to FSA’s response.
The agency went on to say: “Hygiene failures are not tolerated by the FSA, and we take robust enforcement action to ensure food businesses improve their procedures to prevent meat becoming contaminated in the first place. Ultimately if standards are not improving or the risk to public health is high enough, we take enforcement action up to and including taking away a premises’ approval to operate. We have no plans to do away with real-time meat inspection as it remains a crucial and integral part of the way in which we effectively administer the legal system of controls to assure the public that meat production complies with hygiene and animal welfare controls.”
The agency says it is “committed to exploring ways in which we can administer the system of controls in the most effective manner while maintaining the highest standards of hygiene and welfare. But any changes will only be made through collaboration and consultation with those affected, and ensuring that food is safe will always be at the heart of everything we do.”
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)