Leader comment: Cheesemaker dispute a sorry saga

Humphrey Errington is in dispute with Food Standards Scotland over his cheese products.
Humphrey Errington is in dispute with Food Standards Scotland over his cheese products.
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The latest chapter in the stand-off between one of Scotland’s leading cheesemakers and the body responsible for ensuring food is safe to eat was presented as a resolution of sorts yesterday, but by last night the dispute had escalated.

Earlier in the day it was announced that Errington Cheese has dropped a legal action against Food Standards Scotland (FSS) after a dispute stretching back to the summer. The South Lanarkshire firm has been linked to an E.coli outbreak in July in which a three-year-old girl died. Two months later, the FSS imposed a ban on its products, a course of action which led Errington – which disputes any link between its produce and the outbreak – to accuse the watchdog of opposing the production of unpasteurised milk cheese.

After lodging a judicial review at the Court of Session in the hope of making FSS evidence public, the firm’s founder, Humphrey Errington, claimed FSS lawyers had offered to pay its legal costs if it dropped the action. For its part, FSS has rejected Mr Errington’s version of events, insisting it has agreed to pay only “reasonable judicial expenses”.

This is curious, especially given that FSS maintains that Errington’s products are still regarded as a “risk to health” and felt the need to release details last night of finding “serious deficiencies” in the production process.

But if that is the case, what is the rationale behind its decision to pay the company’s legal costs, even in part?

The situation as it stands is in no-one’s best interests. Those whose loved ones died or fell ill will be confused and upset, Errington is no nearer to resuming trading, and a public body tasked with giving consumers confidence appears to be sending out mixed messages.