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Judicial Review / Crowd justice and FSS meeting

09 March 2019

Huge thanks to all for the amazing support we have had over the past 10 days. We are so pleased to have exceeded the target for preparation of the Judicial Review. We are very grateful for all the wonderful support and comments, which show the level of public support of farmhouse raw milk cheese making in Scotland and the lack of public trust in the decision making and advice from Food Standards Scotland

On my previous update we sent a Pre-action protocol letter to Food Standards Scotland; they had until Friday to respond – sadly they haven’t given a satisfactory response so we are proceeding with preparation of the judicial review petition as recommended by our lawyers.

On Wednesday we attended a meeting organised by the cheesemaker who is not party to the legal proceedings with FSS. On a positive note I can say that Food Standards Scotland and representation from SFELC attended the meeting to start the process of engaging with the cheesemakers and the Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA) of which we are members. The new chairperson for the SFELC subgroup for raw milk cheese who is part of the Environmental Services team at South Lanarkshire Council made the effort to come and talk to me after the meeting which I very much appreciate. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the application of the legislation and best practice in relation to raw milk cheese making and hope that we can move on positively from that.

The Chairwoman of the SCA spoke about the Specialist Cheesemakers Code of Practice which has been developed over the past 25 years and is now an assured Code of Practice in England, she explained how well it had worked in England and helped the EHO’s carry out thier regulatory role, any questions or issues go through Cornwall Council. I for one had hoped that FSS would, since it had worked so well for consistent enforcement and lines of communication for the FSA in England, see the merit in signing up with Cornwall Council for Scottish purposes, to this scheme in some way, after all there are only 18 cheesemakers, I think, in Scotland and it is hardly either 1. Good value for money to the Scottish taxpayer or 2. Within the scope of FSS/EHO expertise. They did not ask any questions about this which was very disappointing.

The SCA spokesman for the technical committee started going through the issues in the Table in annex 2 of the document, but he was stopped at item 4 so none of the rest of the issues identified by him were discussed. It was decided that these should be discussed with FSS separately outwith the meeting.

Geoff Ogle interrupted the first speaker from PFT to read out a prepared statement.

The FSS head of communications and marketing was present and, conveniently, had already written a statement to send to the press!

Geoff Ogle stated the guidance was ‘draft’ several times but refused to update the guidance to reflect that.

Although towards the end of the meeting FSS did concede they would discuss the problems in the guidance with the SCA and make changes as required they made no commitment as to when that might be nor any firm commitment as to what the changes would be since they didn’t feel the need to listen to all the issues at the meeting.

I felt like I was being talked to, by the scientific adviser present, as though I was not very clever and didn’t really understand – a strange and arrogant stance really when you consider the history.

I felt the other organisations present intervened in a very unhelpful manner and clearly had not listened to the cheese makers about our concerns and were more interested in pushing their own agenda and attempting to defend and prop up a government agency which has made mistake after mistake then pushing an inaccurate conclusion of the meeting that it had been a success – success maybe to them and FSS but not for the cheesemakers as we are no further forward apart from a vague and un substantive reassurance that FSS do not have it in for raw milk cheese in Scotland…. The actions and press statements over the past few years do nothing to make me believe them.

To sum up I felt the meeting was more of a PR stunt on behalf of the FSS; I have no confidence that they have accepted or learnt anything over the past few years in relation to raw milk cheese and they are still committed from the top to eradicating our small industry. They have made mistake after mistake very publically and I simply do not understand how the Scottish government are letting this continue. Regulatory Authority should gain public trust by their actions rather than being an expensive PR machine hell bent on pursuing their own agenda based on prejudice and lack of education.

For the record we did not agree to the ‘joint press statement’ issued by FSS yesterday, the last communication I had from the SCA stated categorically that it was not appropriate and too premature to put out a joint press statement and that the SCA were not going to be party to that without agreement from members. I had understood that the representative from the PFT was going to communicate that to FSS, I am disappointed he took it upon himself to act without reference to the Scottish Cheesemakers.