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FSA vows to act after horsemeat response report; AGENCY PLEDGES TO IMPROVE HANDLING OF EMERGENCIES.

Byline: JAMES MCCARTHY james.mccarthy@walesonline.co.uk

THE Food Standards Agency in Wales has pledged to improve how it handles major emergencies after it struggled to meet the challenges of the horsemeat scandal.

An independent report said the agency behaved with "hesitancy", did not appreciate how big the incident could become, and allowed staff to work to the brink of burning out after news of equine DNA in burgers broke on January 14 this year.

Professor Pat Troop, vice-chairman of Cambridge University Hospitals and a former NHS deputy chief medical officer, wrote the paper. "Whilst there was early action from the FSA, there was also some hesitancy," she said.

"This arose firstly as this was not a food safety incident with major health implications, and for some staff this resulted in a lack of appreciation of the potential impact of the incident." Prof Troop added: "There was also a 'wait and see how this develops' view from a number of people. The reasoning appeared to be that there was only one company with a product with significant contamination, so it may be a 'one-off'."

Seven Welsh councils took meat off school menus after a sample from Newport firm Welsh Brothers tested positive. Farmbox Meats, in Llandre, near Aberystwyth, was raided by law enforcement and FSA officers.

"The FSA's Incident Response Protocol was not sufficient for a response of this scale," Prof Troop said.

"There was some initial internal concern and confusion amongst FSA staff, with some reporting that the normal protocol could have been enhanced to meet the need of this incident.

"There was also insufficient communication internally about the changes. It is always difficult to change course during an incident, but a review of the FSA incident response protocol shows that, whilst it may be adequate for a routine food incident plan, it is not for a major incident plan."

The new arrangements worked well and should "form the basis of a revised major incident plan".

He said the agency must "develop and increase its resilience".

"In this incident at the top level staff were rotated, however, at many other levels, this did not happen and many staff were in danger of suffering 'burn-out'," Prof Troop said.

"A strong cadre of staff will need to be trained for different roles. The major incident plan should be developed with partners, and supported by a robust programme of testing and practice."

Collaborative working was "essential", though establishing "a wide range of partners can be time consuming with potential delays in the investigations".

"The incident also highlighted some limitations in the FSA's powers, for example around powers of entry, which leaves vulnerabilities where delays can result in loss of evidence," Prof Troop said.

Yesterday, the Welsh Food Advisory Committee met to discuss Prof Troop's report.

Jane Davies is head of enforcement at FSA Wales. She told the committee they had been told to "urgently review" their handling of major incidents.

"We are taking this forward with partners and stakeholders including consumers, the industry and enforcement," she said.

A blueprint is now being formed that will be "followed for all incidents".

"We are still in preliminary discussions," Ms Davies said.

A skeleton plan has been developed which FSA Wales "will be building on".

Once completed, the document will be publicly available. Sheep farmer and committee member Derek Morgan said "one of the main frustrations was the lack of prosecutions".

Geoff Ogle, acting director of FSA Wales, replied that the police and Crown Prosecution Service were dealing with criminal investigations and court cases.

CAPTION(S):

| A worker handles animal carcasses at the Doly-Com abattoir, one of the two units checked by Romanian authorities in the horsemeat scandal, in the village of Roma, northern Romania
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 6, 2013
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