One of Scotland’s leading cheesemakers has pinned his hopes on legal action to keep his business open after it was caught up in an E. coli outbreak.
Humphrey Errington is seeking a judicial review to prevent Food Standards Scotland (FSS) from destroying all his stocks of Dunsyre Blue, which it claims lay behind the outbreak that affected 22 people and led to the death of a three-year-old girl.
Mr Errington said that unless the court rules in his favour his Lanarkshire firm Errington Cheese is “finished” and will have to close.
The company has gone to the Court of Session to ask for a suspension of instructions from FSS ordering enforcement officials to “seek out and destroy” all stocks of the product.
It is also seeking details of tests carried out by the agency which linked the cheese to the outbreak, after the firm’s own tests were unable to find the bacteria.
Mr Errington said: “We had no choice but to take this to court, otherwise we would have been shut down for ever.”
Sorta like the 3-year-old.
After the outbreak last summer the FSS banned sales of five brands of cheese sold by Mr Errington’s company: Dunsyre Blue, Dunsyre Baby, Lanark Blue, Lanark White, Maisie’s Kebbuck and Cora Linn. Customers who had bought the cheeses were asked to return them.
Professor Hugh Pennington, an expert on E.coli has questioned the proportionality of the food watchdog’s decision to issue a blanket ban on the sale of all cheeses from Errington.
The emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said FSS had come down “very heavily” on Errington Cheese, stating there is a “real possibility” the organisation was “over-interpreting scientific evidence”.
He said that the “jury was still out” and while there may be a “moderately strong” case on Dunsyre Blue, there was “no scientific evidence” on any of the firm’s other cheeses.
FSS deny this, saying all all results from samples were shared with Errington and insist decision take to recall Errington Cheese Ltd products are “evidence-based and informed by interpretation from experts including legally designated food examiners”.
The FSS also intends to take further action to clamp down on any manufacturer using unpasteurised “raw” milk and has issued a letter to all local authorities requiring them to apply new and stringent tests on the presumption that any cheese made this way is unsafe.
The order applies to hundreds of cheesemakers, including some famous brands, and has led to some claiming they are being made subject to regulations far more severe than other food producers.