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Court Saves Meat Company Threatened by EU Ban

CowsA meat company that faced being put out of business – with a loss of 40 jobs and £5 million of investment – by Food Standards Agency (FSA) restrictions on the sale of its innovative products has been saved after the High Court granted it urgent interim relief pending consideration of the case by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Newby Foods Limited argued that its business was effectively destroyed when the FSA, under pressure from the European Commission, imposed a moratorium on the manufacture of its beef and lamb products and reclassified others so that they could not be sold as ‘meat preparations’.

The company had developed a unique mechanised butchery process whereby meat was removed from butchered bones by friction and then pressed through small holes to remove any bone, gristle or sinew.  The resulting product, known as de-sinewed meat, had the appearance of fine mince.

The FSA had, since 2003, viewed the company’s products as meat preparations. However, the Commission refused to recognise them as such and, on that basis, the FSA imposed the moratorium on the production of de-sinewed meat from beef and lamb bones in April 2012. The company was also required to label its pork and poultry products as ‘mechanically separated meat’ which is less desirable and valuable because it cannot count towards the meat content of food products.

The Court referred the dispute to the ECJ for a ruling on the definition of meat preparations in May 2013. However, that legal process was expected to take many months to complete and, in the meantime, the company had substantial stocks that it could not sell and faced having to cease trading.

Releasing the company from commercial limbo, the Court noted that it had a ‘strong’ argument that its products should be classified as meat preparations. The Court opened the way for the company to sell 51 tonnes of de-sinewed lamb that it had in storage as pet food and directed that it be permitted to produce de-sinewed pork and poultry products – and sell them labelled as meat preparations – until the ECJ gives its decision.

Pending that ruling, the Court ordered the FSA to take no further steps to enforce the moratorium in respect of the company’s poultry and pork products but stopped short of allowing the use of ruminant bones – from cattle and sheep – in the production process.