Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has intervened in the fallout over food standards at the country’s largest chicken supplier by stating that supermarkets and food assurance schemes should hand over intelligence on meat plants to the Food Standards Agency.
The comments were made after the Guardian and ITV News revealed on Tuesday how Tesco food standards inspectors had unearthed a series of “major” process issues at a second 2 Sisters Food Group factory, on the same weekend that separate concerns prompted the temporary closure of the firm’s Site D in West Bromwich in October.
Tesco conducted a series of emergency inspections of 2 Sisters chicken factories as a direct response to a Guardian and ITV undercover investigation into Site D at the end of September.
Having unearthed process problems at the Coupar Angus plant in Perth and Kinross – which were all distinct from what was filmed at Site D – Tesco “insisted these were addressed immediately to prevent any food safety issues”.
During his appearance in front of the environment, food and rural affairs committee on Wednesday, Gove was told how the FSA was not being informed “of what’s happening in [meat] factories” following inspections conducted by the supermarkets and food standards assurance schemes, such as Red Tractor.
John Grogan MP asked: “Do you think they should be informed, secretary of state?”
Gove replied: “Yes.”
Tesco said it “works closely” with the regulator and had shared “the key findings from our inspections at 2 Sisters Food Group with the FSA”. The grocer handed the full Coupar Angus report to the FSA after being contacted by the Guardian and ITV.
The exchange follows leaked documents showing how Tesco’s auditors gave the Coupar Angus plant what they described as a “red” rating because of five “major” process failings. Fewer than 1% of Tesco supplier sites receive a “red” audit rating. The audit did not find the food was unsafe or that food safety regulations had been breached.
A spokesman for 2 Sisters, which pledged on Tuesday to publish audit findings from its sites, said: “ITV and the Guardian are referring to standard inspection audits and appear to be trying to damage the reputation of our factories and potentially the livelihoods of 23,000 colleagues by misrepresenting them. There is and never was any risk to food safety at Coupar Angus. This is using old news to highlight issues which were resolved with our customer two months ago.”