UK Members of Parliament have questioned the processes of the nation’s food standards agencies following an enquiry into hygiene and safety at a 2 Sisters Food Group poultry processing plant in the West Midlands.
The enquiry by Parliament’s Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) followed an undercover investigation by The Guardian newspaper and ITV News, which revealed workers at the 2 Sisters’ plant in West Bromwich tampered with slaughter date labels on fresh chickens, posing a potential health hazard to consumers.
Major UK supermarkets immediately suspended orders as the probe alleged birds were also returned to the production line from the factory floor.
Owner Ranjit Singh Boparan temporarily closed the site before appearing at the EFRA hearing, where he pledged to install permanent inspectors from the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and improve monitoring through closed-circuit television. He also plans to have “mystery workers” at all of its poultry plants by January.
Now, in a report published following the EFRA hearing, the committee of MPs has attested the hygiene concerns raised by their investigation into 2 Sisters were “not a one-off” and committee chairman Neil Parish said the inquiry should act as a “wake-up call” for food accreditation firms to “improve their processes”.
MPs said their investigation looked at the “apparently patchwork” nature of the industry’s accreditation process and how the 2 Sisters site had been checked for quality, rather than whether it breached food standards.
They also looked at the role and performance of the FSA, Sandwell Metropolitan Council, under whose jurisdiction the West Bromwich plant falls, and other bodies.
“Food supply chains are sensitive and easy to disrupt when retailers and consumers lose confidence in food quality or safety,” Parish said, adding that “large producers and retailers have a responsibility to protect, rather than undermine, the UK’s food producers”.
The MPs claimed even unannounced visits were not truly a “surprise” because workers were given about 30 minutes’ notice.
Additionally, their enquiries found that Assured Food Standards, which licenses the Red Tractor quality mark, did not “immediately and especially” inform the FSA when it briefly suspended the 2 Sisters accreditation between 2 and 9 October.
The committee concluded that “the past record of the 2 Sisters Food Group is far from pristine and there are valid questions to be asked of its corporate governance structure”.
2 Sisters’ West Bromwich plant reopened for business on 16 November, and supermarkets Tesco, Aldi, Marks and Spencer and Lidl said they planned to start accepting deliveries of fresh chickens having been satisfied with the outcomes and actions taken following the enquiry. However, Sainsbury’s said it would no longer take deliveries from the site.