Inside Suffolk’s slaughterhouses – Regulator uncovers ‘major’ breaches of animal welfare
PUBLISHED: 05:30 16 December 2018 | UPDATED: 17:35 18 December 2018
New data has revealed a number of major faults at abattoirs and cutting plants across the county – highlighting serious issues with contamination, food safety and animal suffering.
Three Suffolk slaughterhouses have been issued with major non-compliance notices relating to animal welfare – with many more penalised for problems with hygiene, meat handling and risk of infection.
In the most recent audits published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), as of December 1, 2018, either major or minor faults were found at all 19 eligible meat establishments.
While the majority of the nine slaughterhouses and 10 cutting plants assessed were found to be either Good or Generally Satisfactory overall, Bernard Matthews Foods Ltd. in Halesworth was classed as Improvement Necessary – meaning any major notices were not always responded to or corrected promptly.
The company received a total of six major faults – mainly relating to problems with contamination and hygiene.
Meanwhile, two slaughterhouses were penalised for major issues with the suffering of animals during the killing process, while another received a serious fault for a lack of staff certification relating to animal welfare.
Overall, 19 major non-compliance notices were issued in the most recent audits published by the FSA, three of which were for animal welfare breaches.
Of the 125 minor non-compliance notices handed out by the FSA, 49 were for issues with environmental hygiene, followed by 27 for meat preparation and 18 for handling of by-products.
The regulator does not provide specific details of why non-compliance notices have been issued, so it is not possible to know exactly what the breaches were in each case.
However a spokesman for the FSA clarified that a single instance of non-compliance can be recorded in multiple categories.
For example, an instance of unhygienic equipment could result in a non-compliance related to both good hygiene practices and food safety systems – and these would be recorded as separate faults.
The spokesman added: “We carry out thousands of audits and unannounced inspections each year and any issues that may pose a risk to public health or animal welfare will result in immediate and robust enforcement action.
“97% of FSA approved slaughterhouses and standalone cutting plants achieved either a good or generally satisfactory audit outcome in terms of compliance.
“The introduction of mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses in England this year is part of stronger measures to prevent animal welfare incidents in the future.”
Where are the major breaches happening?
One of the slaughterhouses to receive a major fault for animal welfare was Eye Poultry – a food supplier with a history of poor conduct.
As recently as 2016, Eye Poultry was found to require ‘urgent improvement’, after receiving a critical fault for issues relating to animal suffering during the killing process.
In 2017, this was downgraded to a minor non-compliance notice and the company was found to be Generally Satisfactory. However it received a major fault again in 2018 – prompting further questions about its conduct.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
The second slaughterhouse to be penalised for a major issue with animal welfare was Diaper Poultry Limited in Stowmarket.
Diaper Poultry has been rated Generally Satisfactory since 2015, however it has received major faults for animal suffering during killings for each of the last two years.
David Peart, factory manager, said the non-compliance notice related to an incident in 2017, and the company worked to the “highest standards” during the production process.
He said: “There was an incident in 2017, it was immediately resolved and rectified.
“We take animal welfare very seriously, and are committed to the highest standards through the production process.
“Our onsite animal welfare officer is performing constant checks, and the food standards agency has its own staff on site to perform checks as well.
“We have CCTV throughout the process to ensure these standards are met.”
Gressingham Foods Ltd., which is based in Debach, near Woodbridge, was also handed a major non-compliance notice for a breach of animal welfare.
While it was found to be compliant in relation to animal suffering, the company received a serious fault for a lack of appropriate certification.
However a spokesman claimed this was rectified at the most recent audit on November 9.
Geoff Buchanan. managing director, said: “The non-compliance relates to November 2017. The non-compliance was raised because some members of staff who already hold certification for handling ducks and domestic fowl did not hold certification for turkeys that were being handled on the day of the audit.
“On receiving the report we immediately took actions to ensure that this would not be repeated in the future. The FSA audited our site again this November (2018) and closed off this non-compliance as they were happy that all staff handling live animals had appropriate certificates for the operations carried out.
“The welfare of our birds and food safety to our customers are absolute priorities and we work to independently audited, stringent standards in hygiene, bio-security and animal welfare.”
The six breaches at Bernard Matthews Foods Ltd. were mainly relating to issues with contamination and environmental hygiene.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.