Cheesemaker Drops Legal Case Against Scots Watchdog

10 November 2016, 19:23

A cheesemaker whose products were removed from sale following a fatal E.coli outbreak has dropped a legal action against Scotland's food watchdog.

Errington Cheese said its plans to seek a judicial review of a ban on the sale of its products will not now go ahead after it received concessions from Food Standards Scotland (FSS).

It vowed it will, however, continue the broader fight to have its products put back on the shelves.

FSS banned the sale of all the firm's cheese products in September and ordered the destruction of the remaining stock, claiming tests on various types had found strains of E.coli O157.

Dunsyre Blue from the South Lanarkshire-based firm had been linked to an E.coli outbreak in the summer in which more than 20 people were infected, including a three-year-old Dunbartonshire girl who died.

Errington Cheese has said it believes there is ``no link'' between its produce and the outbreak.

FSS later withdrew the destruction order but the producer maintains that until the sales ban is also overturned, #350,000 of stored cheese is at risk of having to be destroyed if it goes off.

Errington Cheese lodged a case for a judicial review against FSS, arguing it was ``unlawful'' for the food safety body to have ordered the destruction of the cheeses and claiming the agency should share the information it was relying upon with the producer.

``We are pleased to report that it has now been recognised that the destruction of our cheese was unwarranted and unnecessary, and that FSS has finally started to share the evidence which they possess with us,'' the cheesemaker said in a statement.

FSS said it has agreed to pay ``the reasonable judicial expenses incurred in connection with the raising of the judicial review'' and it has now been dropped.

Errington, which has already laid off 12 members of staff and remains banned from selling any cheese, said it will continue to fight to reopen its business ``and to establish the truth of our position''.

``This company continues to believe that our cheese is safe and fit for human consumption, and that there is no link between any of our products and the recent E.coli O157 outbreak,'' the firm added.

``We do so in reliance on expert advice which we have obtained from the most respected of scientists.''

FSS said the food alert was issued following investigations by Health Protection Scotland, South Lanarkshire Council.

A statement from the body said: ``Samples taken by South Lanarkshire Council from different batches of a range of different cheeses produced by Errington Cheese over a four-month period tested positive for E. coli O157 and for other (non-O157) strains of toxin-producing E. coli.

``These samples were tested by fully-accredited testing laboratories and the results verified by expert scientists at reference laboratories in Scotland and England.

``FSS's priority remains protection of consumers. The product withdrawal relating to all products produced by Errington Cheese as listed in the FAFA notice remains in place as the food produced is regarded as a risk to health.''

FSS later published risk assessments completed during the investigation of Errington products.

Chief executive Geoff Ogle said: ``Given the understandable level of interest and press coverage regarding the E.coli O157 outbreak linked to products from Errington Cheese Ltd, FSS has taken the decision that it is in the public interest to publish the information that we have used to inform our decision-making with regards to this incident.

``This outbreak led to one fatality and 11 people being hospitalised. This was a major food incident where there was a significant risk to public health, with a tragic outcome.

``I have seen a number of comments today and over the past weeks about this incident which FSS does not recognise nor accept. Reference to recent legal actions should not be about claiming any sort of ''victory`` given the consequences of the E.coli O157 outbreak.

``There is nothing to celebrate and this was never a vendetta against the rights to make, sell and consume cheese made from raw milk, nor against Errington Cheese Ltd.

``Given all that has happened it is sad to see this being portrayed as such in some quarters.''