Brussels 12 October 2006
Commission starts infringement proceedings against the UK for failure to act on food safety violations
Today the European Commission decided to initiate infringement proceedings against the UK government, due to its lack of response to identified food safety problems in a UK dairy establishment. The Commission considers that the national authorities’ failure to take appropriate measures in response to unlawful and unhygienic practices in Bowland Dairy (see IP/06/1337) constitutes an infringement of EU legislation. In the Commission’s opinion, the UK government did not fulfill its obligation to effectively enforce EU rules and mitigate risks to consumer safety, despite being fully aware of the serious problems that the EU’s Food and Veterinary Office found in this dairy. The Commission is particularly concerned about the acceptance shown by the UK authorities towards the placing on the market of milk which tested positive for antibiotics and which was not shown to be within the required EU maximum residue levels.
Member States must enforce food law, and monitor and verify that the relevant requirements are met by business operators at all stages of production and processing. For that purpose, they are required to maintain a system of official controls and food safety surveillance, and must have procedures in place to ensure that corrective action is taken whenever needed. In particular, whenever non-compliance is detected, appropriate measures must be taken to remedy the situation.
The UK Food Safety Authority (FSA) was informed as early as mid-June of the shortcomings and unlawful practices identified by the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) during a visit to Bowland Dairy Products Ltd in Lancashire. The FSA was also informed of the Commission’s concerns about the unlawful placing on the market of raw milk for which compliance with EU maximum residues levels for antibiotics could not be ensured.
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 Bowland case was discussed by all Member States on a number of occasions, including in Standing Committee meetings in July and September. A follow-up FVO 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.
In the Commission’s opinion, the seriousness of the infringements should have resulted in the FSA taking immediate remedial action to ascertain whether such practices were occuring elsewhere in the UK and to ensure that the unlawful practices were discontinued without delay. No such remedial action was effectively carried out by the FSA.
The UK has 5 days to respond to the Commission’s allegations. Failure to provide a fully satisfactory answer would result in the issuing of a Reasoned Opinion under Article 226 of the Treaty and, eventually, in the case being brought before the Court of Justice.
The decision to start the infringement proceedings is accompanied by a safeguard measure banning curd cheese from the non-compliant dairy from being placed on the market, due to the likely health hazards this cheese could pose. The safeguard measure is intended to protect public health until such time as the United Kingdom complies with its enforcement obligations.