The Proof (when at long last we have the chance to challenge the evidence against our cheese) had been fixed to start on 1st June and continue for two weeks. Last Tuesday was the deadline for both sides to lodge their productions (scientific papers, reports etc.) and expert witness reports with the Court. We have done so but South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) have failed to lodge expert reports and many of their productions, despite the fact that FSS made up their minds about the cheese last year. Faced with having to defend ourselves without knowing the grounds for SLC’s claim that our cheese is dangerous, we had no choice but to ask the Sheriff on Friday to discharge (or adjourn) the proof to give us time to receive and study SLC’s evidence. The Sheriff agreed and set a further procedural hearing for a week on Monday at which we hope another date for the Proof will be set.
It seems (we cannot be certain until we see their reports) that SLC are bringing 6 or 7 scientists to give evidence as well as about 15 other witnesses. Our lawyers have suggested that, with all these people to be heard, the proof may take as long as a month. The cost to Errington Cheese hardly bears thinking about. Since last August we have already incurred legal costs of around £200,000.
We have been told that SLC are turning a simple process (outlined in the Food Safety Act 1990), for deciding whether a food is fit to eat, into what amounts, in all but name, to a Public Enquiry into pathogenic E.coli paid for, in part, by ourselves. This maybe an abuse of the provisions in the Act but, despite the massive expense, we have to go along with it.
We believe we have no choice but to defend our cheese since we have a huge stock which, after extensive testing, we believe is perfectly safe to eat. We could not possibly afford to throw it all out and start again. If we lose, all artisan cheese making in Scotland (and probably the rest of the UK too) faces a very uncertain future because the grounds for condemning our cheese could be applied to anyone making raw milk cheese. And that threat could extend beyond cheese making to other ready-to-eat foods, for example charcuterie, oysters, smoked salmon etc.
We have been overwhelmed with the continuing support we have received so far, both financially and in other ways, from members of the public, businesses and other professionals; we are enormously grateful to all those who have helped us, but the battle is not yet won.