Food Standards Scotland is aware of ongoing commentary around the Errington Cheese Ltd case. Food Standards Scotland is – rightly – publically accountable, and accountable to Parliament. Our duty is to protect public health. We believe it is in the public interest for FSS to address the inaccuracies being reported.
First, Food Standards Scotland does not act alone during a major food incident. In this instance, we were one of several agencies and 60 individuals representing Health Protection Scotland, NHS Health Boards, South Lanarkshire Council and other Local Authorities. Setting up an Incident Management team during an incident is standard practice to ensure a range of experts are involved.
Secondly, extensive investigations into the possible cause of the E.coli O157 outbreak of 2016 were undertaken – not just looking at a range of possible food sources, but also at possible factors common to all of the patients interviewed, such as recent travel, environmental factors etc. These investigations were extensive and exhaustive, and led the Incident Management Team to Dunsyre Blue cheese, produced by Errington Cheese Ltd, as the source of the outbreak.
This conclusion of the Incident Management Team report is not being legally challenged. The recent Sheriff Court proceedings did not relate to Dunsyre Blue cheese and therefore the Court did not have the opportunity to review the large body of evidence considered by the Incident Management Team during the outbreak. The Court condemned some batches of Corra Linn and Lanark Blue cheese because they failed to comply with food safety requirements, and released others.
Thirdly, the epidemiology (the spread of the disease and identification of the source) is being challenged in a report by Professor Norman Noah which we understand was prepared for the purpose of defending litigation against Errington Cheese Ltd by a third party. Neither Food Standards Scotland nor Health Protection Scotland have had sight of this report, despite requests, and so have had no opportunity to respond to its conclusions.
Further, there are calls for an independent review of Food Standards Scotland’s actions and decision – which, to reiterate, were not taken in isolation. An independent review has already been undertaken under a co-operative agreement between the central food authorities of New Zealand and those of the United Kingdom, which we have published on our website.
The Government of New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries evaluated the decisions that were taken regarding the recall of products from Errington Cheese Ltd during the E.coli O157 outbreak of 2016.
The reviewers in New Zealand were presented with extensive documentation which we will also be releasing. The evaluation was based on international good practice, New Zealand regulatory requirements and expectations that would be applied in a similar scenario, as well as the Ministry for Primary Industries’ specialist scientific evidence.
The New Zealand government reviewers “find the risk management decisions made and actions taken by the Competent Authorities SLC [South Lanarkshire Council] and FSS are reasonable and proportionate in regard to protecting public health.”