UK tightens hygiene to head off EU dairy row

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fsa, European union

The UK food safety watchdog has revised its guidance on dairy
hygiene in an attempt to defuse pending legal action from the EU,
after allegations UK officials failed to protect the public from
contaminated milk.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has told all local authorities across the UK to act immediately to ensure EU rules on contaminated milk and cheese recovery are applied correctly.

The move follows a week of confusion for dairy firms, after the European Commission said it would take the UK to court because it had not sufficiently tackled safety and hygiene lapses found at Bowland Dairies in northern England.

The FSA has denied acting inappropriately, but its new guidance is an attempt to placate the Commission, which now also plans to inspect several dairy businesses across the UK between 20 and 28 November.

Bowland's use of milk containing antibiotics residues has caused the Commission particular concern.

Fundamental differences existed between the Commission and FSA interpretation of the rules on antibiotics in milk, a Commission spokesperson told DairyReporter.com​.

The FSA has now said raw milk found to contain antibiotics in an initial screen test must either be thrown our or put through a chemical test to see if levels exceed the EU maximum.

It also said milk suppliers must prove their milk is fit for purpose.

Commission officials, at an EU-wide meeting last week, agreed to discuss the antibiotics issue further with experts. They were keen to see a new rapid test developed, which could detect all antibiotics residues in milk subject to EU Maximum Residue Limits.

The Commission also said it would begin a risk assessment of cheese recovery operations, using the European Food Safety Authority.

Bowland was found in June using mouldy cheese and floor sweepings. The FSA said it had acted to bring Bowland into line, and has now reminded the industry that all cheese recovery operations must be approved.

Dairy companies complained they were merely the pawns in what is largely a political row between the Commission and FSA.

It is thought the Commission would like to see a more centralised approach to food hygiene in the UK. Local authorities in different areas are currently responsible for inspections and enforcement, although the FSA has the power to intervene.

Ed Komorowski, technical director for industry association Dairy UK, said the Commission position on testing for antibiotics in milk was not clear.

"The industry is open to inspection at any time. We are inspected regularly and we do not see that there is anything wrong."

Related topics: Food labelling

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