The Food Standards Agency has formally commissioned an independent investigation into a complaint from Mead Webber Ltd. about the alleged unsatisfactory performance of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) at the company's abattoir at Eardisley, Herefordshire, in April this year.

This follows recent confirmation of the complaint by Mead Webber Ltd., and the company's agreement to the two members of the panel who will assist its chairman with the investigation. The Meat Hygiene Service has been asked for a written response to the complaint, on which Mead Webber Ltd. will be invited to comment before all the papers are passed to the panel for consideration - including consideration of the need for any oral hearing.

The date, time and place of any oral hearing will be published. Any oral hearing would be held in public, although the chairman of the investigation would be able to go into private session if there were good grounds for doing so.

The investigation panel will comprise:

Chairman:

Mr Michael J. Ware, CB QC, formerly Solicitor to the then Department of the Environment for ten years, and a former Chief Legal Adviser to the Office of Fair Trading. He has served as Chairman of the Meat Hygiene Appeals Tribunal since it was established in 1993.

Assisted by:

Mr Keith Thomas, a retired veterinary surgeon from a large animal veterinary practice. He is a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and a past-President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association. He is also a former trustee of the British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation.

and

Mr John J. Vernon, MInstM, a member and past-President of the National Federation of Meat and Food Traders. He is the former proprietor of a small slaughterhouse, Chairman of J. J. Vernon Ltd., and has three independent retail shops.

The arrangements have been agreed by both parties. When the investigation has been completed, the panel will submit a report and recommendations to Geoffrey Podger, Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency. The report and recommendations will be published, as will the Agency's response.


NOTES FOR EDITORS
  1. The terms of reference of the investigation are:
    • To ascertain the facts and sequence of events which led to the closure of the Mead Webber plant on 26th April 2000;


    • To ascertain what failures, if any, were made by MHS staff;


    • To determine whether MHS staff involved performed in a competent, fair, and/or professional manner;


    • To determine whether, under the circumstances at the time, the directors of Mead Webber had reasonable grounds for claiming that their closure of the plant was due to the actions of the MHS; and


    • To make recommendations to prevent similar or like failures, should it be so determined that failures occurred.
  2. Mead Webber Ltd. operated a medium-sized abattoir that specialised in the slaughtering of sheep.