The European Union has commenced infringement proceedings against the UK’s food safety authorities for allegedly failing to react to food safety violations at Bowland Dairy. The EU suspended imports of curd cheese from the dairy concerned last Friday (6 October), but the UK Food Standards Agency had said it found no evidence to support the EU’s concerns.

The start of legal proceedings escalates the row between UK and EC food safety bodies over procedures that test for antibiotics in milk. The EC said it was concerned that the FSA was allowing milk contaminated with antibiotics to be used in dairy processing.

“The commission alerted the UK authorities and repeatedly demanded that the responsible food operators and UK authorities immediately address the problems and prevent products unfit for human consumption from reaching consumers,” the EC said in a statement.

“An… inspection in September found persistent non-compliance in the dairy, while extensive discussions between the commission and the UK authorities revealed that they took no effective action to ensure that the dairy came into full compliance with EU hygiene and food safety laws,” the commission continued.

The FSA told just-food that “fundamental differences” existed between the EC’s and FSA’s interpretation of the rules and science on antibiotics in milk. The body also pointed to the fact that it is yet to receive a copy of the EC’s report identifying problems at the dairy.

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UK authorities have five days to provide a satisfactory response to the accusations, otherwise the commission will refer the dispute to the European Court of Justice.

The UK dairy industry responded by highlighting concerns that it will be caught in a legal wrangle between the EU and FSA. Ed Komorowski, technical director of Dairy UK, said: “What is disappointing is that this issue appears to centre on a technical dispute over test methods, and the commission’s resort to immediate legal action is unnecessary at this stage. The commission and the FSA should get together to resolve these issues.

“A disagreement between the Food Standards Agency and the European Commission on how the law should be applied and how hygiene tests are carried out, does not mean that the UK government is being negligent in its duties,” he commented.