However, the report also found that after a poorly received initial response the performance of the FSA improved. Recommendations, if acted upon, would help the agency build on its “excellent foundation” in future, said crisis management consultants Steelhenge.
Sense of inaction
The report, commissioned by the UK food safety watchdog itself, revealed that 75 per cent of industry “stakeholders” condemned the “quality and timeliness of information from the FSA as inadequate, ambiguous and/or late” in the early stages of the food scare in December 2008. The industry overwhelmingly perceived a “sense of inaction by the authorities”, said the report authors.
The food safety scare started on 6 December, 2008, after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) issued a recall of all Irish pork products from pigs slaughtered after 1 September. The alarm was raised following confirmation that elevated levels of dioxins had been found in pork of Irish origin.
And it was not just meat producers, processors and retailers who expressed their misgivings. In the vital early days of the incident, enforcement teams in Northern Ireland felt “universally constrained in their ability to act quickly”.
Lack of confidence
The inquiry also found “widespread criticism of the lack of direction and information from the FSA” which did not appear to respond quickly or visibly enough. While industry groups had already formed crisis groups to deal with the fallout by Day 2, information from the FSA was seen as being too sparse in volume and sometimes contradictory in nature between agency offices.
“The general consensus was that this made effective industry responses difficult to manage and caused a lack of confidence in the veracity of advice provided by the FSA,” said the report.
But, said the authors, this early viewed altered after 10 December with information from the FSA viewed as “accurately, proportionate and timely as was possible under the circumstances”.
Internal procedures within the FSA were also questioned. While senior officials demonstrated “strong leadership”, the report said staff should have been “prepared to request ‘being left alone to get on with it’”. The report recommended that chains of command be simplified and roles more clearly defined.
FSA staff, described as doing an “excellent job” and who “care very much about what they do”, would have benefited from greater training in how to deal with such a crisis. Further resources, particularly in the critical early stages, were needed, added the report.