Chicken scandal firm given £1.3 million by Scottish Government

A poultry processing firm which made headlines last year following a food safety and hygiene scandal has been given more than £1.3 million by the Scottish Government.

2 Sisters Poultry Limited received £1,389,416 to support a slaughterhouse in Coupar Angus which has repeatedly breached environmental and animal welfare standards and caused distress to local residents due to its stench.

The Coupar Angus plant has had increased food standards safety checks after an undercover investigation by the Guardian and ITV News revealed that workers at a 2 Sisters’ factory in West Bromwich routinely fiddled the slaughter date of poultry to extend “use by” dates.

A 2 Sisters news release said the new funding will create 250 jobs at its Perthshire factory, increase capacity and streamline supply chains. The firm said this will cut down on food waste, as well as logistical and distribution costs.

However, the release did not detail plans to reduce the odour of the factory. Coupar Angus residents are still reporting a stench despite improvement measures taken last year, after 2 Sisters was ordered to act by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

In response, the Scottish Greens said the Scottish Government is “subsidising polluting industrial chicken production” from a company that has “little regard for animal welfare or environmental standards.”

2 Sisters said there had been just one historical incident and that its plant had been rated “good” by Sepa this year.

Residents told The Ferret about the noise and smell they endure.

Amanda Williamson, a member of local action group, 2 Sisters Coupar Angus Pollution Watch, who has lived near the abattoir for 15 years, hoped that a portion of the new funding might be dedicated to smell and noise abatement.

“The smell is so bad and the noise pollution is so bad. If they do something about it to fix it then I’m all for it, but if not, they don’t deserve it,” she said.

Kim Coran, another member of the group, shared Williamson’s concerns.

“I’m not too happy, there’s no work getting done to improve the factory whatsoever. It’s not just the smell, it’s the noise, the noise is just as bad in the night as well,” said Coran.

The poultry factory has operated in the town for decades. 2 Sisters is the most recent firm to run operate it. However, residents insist that the odour has become worse recently.

“I’ve been in Coupar Angus all my life, and I’m 40. I can remember being a child and smelling it,” Coran said.

“With the smell, you try to get used to it. But I think the smell has gotten a lot worse than what I can remember from being a kid.

“We can’t hang washing out, we can’t leave the windows open in the house – the smell goes straight through the house. It doesn’t matter how much air freshener you use to get rid of the smell – it sticks to your furniture, your curtains, everything. It’s stinking.”

Sepa received more than 75 complaints about odours from the Coupar Angus abattoir between January 2016 and August 2017. Sepa officers described the odour as “blood/nauseating”, “viscera”, “manure/ammonia” and “burning and vile”.

A document obtained by The Ferret under freedom of information law shows that only five complaints had been made to Sepa between late August 2017 and early May 2018. Two complaints related to “offensive” odour, while the other three were not categorised.

The document also showed that six odour assessments were completed by Sepa between 25 August 2017 and early May 2018. None were found to be offensive.

Sepa confirmed it had received 15 complaints in May. However, some local residents believe that not all complaints are recorded, or acted upon by Sepa.

Coran said she contacts Sepa regularly and did so recently after being woken up between 5.15 and 5.30 in the morning due to the smell.

“Nine times out of ten, I don’t get any emails back from them and never hear anything back from them – then I phone them again and they say they’ll contact me again and the same things happens”, she said.

Williamson made similar claims. “We complain all the time – they don’t do anything. They try to say that they don’t get any complaints from anybody, which is rubbish,” she said.

“They’re not doing anything. The whole group of people I know in Coupar Angus are phoning them all the time and emailing them. Michael Gallagher has been fighting with them for years and nothing’s getting done.”

A Sepa spokesman insisted that all complaints are followed up. “Every day Sepa works to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment, and we follow up every public complaint that is received in order to assess whether any incidents have occurred,” he said.

“Since the start of May, Sepa has received 15 complaints from members of the public regarding odours in the Coupar Angus area. Whilst Sepa has undertaken odour assessments in response to these complaints, none have been considered as offensive at the time of inspection.”

He added: “In addition to 2 Sisters Poultry Limited there are other potential sources of odour in the area. Sepa has taken action to improve odour abatement at the 2 Sisters site, and prior to May we had not received any complaints about odours from the site since October 2017.

“In the majority of cases we have provided an update to complainants on actions we have undertaken, and we always encourage people to inform us if they are concerned so that we can take action to protect the environment.”

Chicken scandal firm breached environmental regulations

2 Sisters declined to comment on the ongoing odour row but said that its Coupar Angus site had received a ‘good’ rating from Sepa at its last assessment in March.

2 Sisters is one of 11 food and drinks companies in Scotland awarded a share of £3.59 million in Scottish Government funding. The money will allow these companies to “invest in infrastructure, upgrade or replace facilities, and purchase new equipment”, according to a Scottish Government news release.

The Ferret last year revealed that 2 Sisters Poultry, which uses the Coupar Angus site as its registered head office, had previously been given a £543,000 government handout from Scottish Enterprise while a related firm – 2 Sisters Food Group – was given £30,240.

Coupar Angus residents said they have repeatedly written to their local MSP, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who in turn has repeatedly written to 2 Sisters about the smell.

Swinney welcomed the new funding but promised to follow up ongoing concerns. “Investment in the 2 Sisters plant in Coupar Angus and the creation of more employment is very welcome,” he said. “It is essential that local concerns about the odour from the plant are acted on promptly by the company and I will raise these concerns with the company and with Sepa when they arise.”

Animal welfare breaches

Serious breaches of animal welfare rules in the Coupar Angus abattoir were highlighted in separate audits carried out by inspectors of Food Standards Scotland in 2016.

A spokesman for 2 Sisters last year told The Ferret that this was a “a single case of historic non-compliance”. He said: “Due to machinery breakdown, birds were housed in our holding area overnight, as agreed by veterinary staff. They were monitored by welfare officers throughout, before proceeding to slaughter at 6am.”

Sarah Moyes, a campaigner for animal welfare charity, OneKind, criticised the firm’s new taxpayer subsidy. “We would like to know why the Scottish Government has chosen to award 2 Sisters Poultry Limited almost £1.4 million for an integrated processing facility, given their track record with serious animal welfare breaches and environmental violations,” she said.

“The group is involved with all aspects of chicken production, from intensive poultry farming through to the slaughter process, and we are concerned that this history of reported breaches puts birds at risk of suffering at many points in their lives.”

Food safety checks to be increased at Scottish chicken plant

Scotland’s food reputation

Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Greens food and farming spokesperson, warned of the implications for Scotland’s reputation as high-quality food producer.

“Our current schemes for rural development and the food and farming sector seem to be based on the principles of  jobs at any cost, and take little regard for animal welfare or environmental standards,” he said.

“The Scottish Government has repeatedly said that they want Scotland to be renowned for our high quality produce. You don’t get that by subsidising polluting industrial chicken production.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland has some of the highest food safety and animal welfare standards in the world. At the time of their application, the company satisfied all the criteria necessary for funding to be awarded.

“As with all projects, there are ongoing monitoring arrangements in place and any issues identified during implementation are investigated.”

Freedom of information response from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency

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