The FSA had sought its closure following alleged “operational deficiencies” in September 2011. In particular, it raised questions over the company’s maintenance programme and HACCP documents.
“This was the first case under the FSA’s new procedures, which prevent businesses that have had approval withdrawn from operating, even if they have lodged an appeal,” said Jamie Foster, partner with solicitors Clarke Willmott, which represents Summers Poultry.
“An appeal can take four or five months to come to court, and this would effectively close the business altogether, putting a large number of people out of work. We sought an injunction immediately to allow the business to continue to operate while we prepared for the appeal.”
Company director John Summers insists there were never any serious deficiencies with the plant, which slaughters 100,000 chickens a week for the Muslim community. “At no point was any product declared not fit for human consumption.”
During the course of events, the British Retail Consortium conducted its own audits, he added, and had granted Summers Poultry “A grade” accreditation.
And now the district judge hearing the case has confirmed that the FSA had misunderstood the law, namely that the court had to consider the state of the factory at the time of the hearing, and not at the time when the approval was withdrawn.
“Common sense has prevailed,” said Mr Foster. “It is just a shame that the withdrawal of approval route was chosen, instead of trying to work with the operator to find a solution.”
A spokesman for the FSA said it was pleased that it had been possible to improve the standards at Summers Poultry Products.
“But it is disappointing that it took the threat of imminent closure and so much time, effort and expensive court proceedings to motivate Summers Poultry Products to improve their standards sufficiently. The fact that the plant is much improved since we decided to withdraw approval back in September 2011 shows the benefit of the FSA’s action.”
This is the first and only case under the FSA’s new procedures.