Tag Archives: safe

Glyphosate shown to disrupt microbiome ‘at safe levels’, study claims

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Controversy has raged around glyphosate since a World Health Organisation agency – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – judged it to be a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.

However, US and European regulators subsequently deemed it acceptable for use, a move campaigners condemned because of regulators’ use of secret industry papers and experts with alleged ties to Monsanto.

The US firm, which recently merged with Bayer in a deal worth more than $ 60bn, argues that it is being unfairly targeted by activist scientists with ulterior motives.

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for global strategy told the Guardian: “The Ramazzini Institute is an activist organisation with an agenda that they have not disclosed as part of their crowdfunding efforts. They wish to support a ban on glyphosate and they have a long history of rendering opinions not supported by regulatory testing agencies.”

“This is not about genuine research,” he added. “All the research to date has demonstrated that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.”

In 2017, the Ramazinni Institute was criticised by members of the US Congress, which has provided it with funding. US congress members have also probed funding for the IARC.

The new crowdfunded pilot study which the Ramazzini Institute compiled with Bologna University and the Italian National Health Institute observed the health effects of glyphosate on Sprague Dawley rats, which had been dosed with the US EPA-determined safe limit of 1.75 micrograms per kilo of body weight.

Two-thirds of known carcinogens had been discovered using the Sprague Dawley rat species, Mandrioli said, although further investigation would be needed to establish long-term risks to human health.

The pilot research did not focus on cancer but it did find evidence of glyphosate bioaccumulation in rats– and changes to reproductive health.

“We saw an increase in ano-genital distance in the formulation that is of specific importance for reproductive health,” Mandrioli said. “It might indicate a disruption of the normal level of sexual hormones.”

The study’s three peer-reviewed papers will be published in Environmental Health later in May, ahead of a €5m follow-up study that will compare the safe level against multiple other doses.

Glyphosate shown to disrupt microbiome ‘at safe levels’, study claims

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Controversy has raged around glyphosate since a World Health Organisation agency – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – judged it to be a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.

However, US and European regulators subsequently deemed it acceptable for use, a move campaigners condemned because of regulators’ use of secret industry papers and experts with alleged ties to Monsanto.

The US firm, which recently merged with Bayer in a deal worth more than $ 60bn, argues that it is being unfairly targeted by activist scientists with ulterior motives.

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for global strategy told the Guardian: “The Ramazzini Institute is an activist organisation with an agenda that they have not disclosed as part of their crowdfunding efforts. They wish to support a ban on glyphosate and they have a long history of rendering opinions not supported by regulatory testing agencies.”

“This is not about genuine research,” he added. “All the research to date has demonstrated that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.”

In 2017, the Ramazinni Institute was criticised by members of the US Congress, which has provided it with funding. US congress members have also probed funding for the IARC.

The new crowdfunded pilot study which the Ramazzini Institute compiled with Bologna University and the Italian National Health Institute observed the health effects of glyphosate on Sprague Dawley rats, which had been dosed with the US EPA-determined safe limit of 1.75 micrograms per kilo of body weight.

Two-thirds of known carcinogens had been discovered using the Sprague Dawley rat species, Mandrioli said, although further investigation would be needed to establish long-term risks to human health.

The pilot research did not focus on cancer but it did find evidence of glyphosate bioaccumulation in rats– and changes to reproductive health.

“We saw an increase in ano-genital distance in the formulation that is of specific importance for reproductive health,” Mandrioli said. “It might indicate a disruption of the normal level of sexual hormones.”

The study’s three peer-reviewed papers will be published in Environmental Health later in May, ahead of a €5m follow-up study that will compare the safe level against multiple other doses.

Ealing council votes for UK’s first ‘safe zone’ around abortion clinic

A west London council has unanimously voted in favour of creating a buffer zone around an abortion clinic to shield women from anti-abortion protesters, in a move that could pave the way for councils across the country to take similar action.

The radical move by Ealing council, which has said it wished to protect women from distress and intimidation at the Marie Stopes clinic, has been backed by high-profile politicians including Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn.

The council voted in favour of implementing a public spaces protection order (PSPO) around the clinic in a cabinet meeting late on Tuesday.

The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network has held regular protests outside the clinic, which have included handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”. The group has denied harassing women going inside the clinic.

Anna Veglio-White, co-founder of the pro-choice organisation Sister Supporter, said women had been asked to pick pink or blue rosaries for the sex of their unborn child, priests had asked women to “give their child a birthday present”, and that women had been approached directly at the front of the clinic.

The unprecedented vote was taken after the council received more than 3,500 responses during a public consultation, which is the biggest single response to a consultation in Ealing ever, according to Labour councillor Binda Rai.

Mark Wiltshire, the director of safer communities and housing, addressed the meeting with the consultation’s findings, which showed that 81% of respondents had seen the concerning behaviours, while 83% had seen explicit imagery. Between 85% and 90% were supportive of the proposed PSPO. Rai noted that of those who responded to oppose the PSPO, only 6.6% actually had an Ealing postcode. In contrast, those who supported it were overwhelmingly local residents.

Following the meeting, the council leader, Julian Bell, said he felt the cabinet had done absolutely the right thing. He said: “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are breaking the ground with this and leading the way. So I’m proud that we are doing it.

“I’m, personally, a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation. We’ve always been clear that that’s what this was about. It wasn’t a debate for or against abortion.”

Veglio-White said she was “completely elated” and said she hoped to see the move repeated across the country, while Elizabeth Howard, a representative for the anti-abortion campaigners, said: “It’s what we expected, after really what can only be described as a sham consultation by the council.”

The news has been welcomed by the sponsor of the original Abortion Act 1967, which legalised terminations in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Lord David Steel. Steel, now aged 81, commented: “This is very good news indeed. It is important that we do not go down the same road as America.”

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central, said Steel’s private member’s bill 51 years ago had improved society for the better and welcomed his support for the campaign. She said: “Tonight’s decision is not about the length of time or number of weeks to set limits or any of that but rather keeping women safe who have decided to go through with that process. I am delighted that he has lent his support to this campaign”.

Quick guide

Access to abortion across the UK

How does access to abortion vary across the UK?

The 1967 Abortion Act, which turns 50 this year, legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland. It permits abortion for non-medical reasons up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and with the permission of two doctors. 

Abortion law was devolved to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016. The SNP has reaffirmed its commitment to ​current ​legal protections and to maintaining time limits in line with the rest of the UK​. 

The 1967 ​​act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only when the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. ​​An ​​amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in England was passed by Westminster earlier this year. 

Last weekend, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that regulations allowing Scottish health boards to provide abortion services to women from Northern Ireland would come into force at the beginning of November.

The vote was welcomed by Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director, who called it “landmark decision for women”. He added: “This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

“Ealing council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.”

Earlier Veglio-White told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why her campaign group was fighting for the safe zone. She said: “There is a pavement counsellor at each gate so women cannot avoid them. The gate is narrow so they have to shuffle past … there is no choice but to walk past these people.

“The leaflets they hand out tell women they are going to get breast cancer if they have an abortion … These women are the most vulnerable and need to go to the clinic to speak to a trained counsellor.”

Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network denied that women were being harassed and said more than 500 women had turned around because of their efforts.

“These are women who have no alternative but abortion – illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence. We’re telling them there are alternatives if they want them.”

Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London.


Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Huq said hate mail and foetus dolls had been sent to her parliamentary office after she raised the issue, and that the problem was one that needed a national not just local response.

“My interest in this matter predates me being an MP,” she said. “As a lifelong Ealing resident, I have noticed women seeking to use the Marie Stopes clinic in Mattock Lane being impeded in their wish to access services for the past two decades.

“Of course I value public protest, but intervention in a manner which might be termed emotional blackmail at this point – at the clinic gate, when vulnerable women are proceeding with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives – is not the time or place.”

Over the past six months, authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and two other London boroughs, Lambeth and Richmond, have also discussed taking action.

Manchester city council passed a motion to investigate intimidation and harassment outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield; Birmingham city council discussed a similar motion in December, proposed by two Labour councillors.

More than 113 MPs have also signed a letter, coordinated by Huq, supporting the proposals, including Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as prominent Conservative MPs including Michael Fabricant and Zac Goldsmith.

Ealing council votes for UK’s first ‘safe zone’ around abortion clinic

A west London council has unanimously voted in favour of creating a buffer zone around an abortion clinic to shield women from anti-abortion protesters, in a move that could pave the way for councils across the country to take similar action.

The radical move by Ealing council, which has said it wished to protect women from distress and intimidation at the Marie Stopes clinic, has been backed by high-profile politicians including Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn.

The council voted in favour of implementing a public spaces protection order (PSPO) around the clinic in a cabinet meeting late on Tuesday.

The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network has held regular protests outside the clinic, which have included handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”. The group has denied harassing women going inside the clinic.

Anna Veglio-White, co-founder of the pro-choice organisation Sister Supporter, said women had been asked to pick pink or blue rosaries for the sex of their unborn child, priests had asked women to “give their child a birthday present”, and that women had been approached directly at the front of the clinic.

The unprecedented vote was taken after the council received more than 3,500 responses during a public consultation, which is the biggest single response to a consultation in Ealing ever, according to Labour councillor Binda Rai.

Mark Wiltshire, the director of safer communities and housing, addressed the meeting with the consultation’s findings, which showed that 81% of respondents had seen the concerning behaviours, while 83% had seen explicit imagery. Between 85% and 90% were supportive of the proposed PSPO. Rai noted that of those who responded to oppose the PSPO, only 6.6% actually had an Ealing postcode. In contrast, those who supported it were overwhelmingly local residents.

Following the meeting, the council leader, Julian Bell, said he felt the cabinet had done absolutely the right thing. He said: “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are breaking the ground with this and leading the way. So I’m proud that we are doing it.

“I’m, personally, a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation. We’ve always been clear that that’s what this was about. It wasn’t a debate for or against abortion.”

Veglio-White said she was “completely elated” and said she hoped to see the move repeated across the country, while Elizabeth Howard, a representative for the anti-abortion campaigners, said: “It’s what we expected, after really what can only be described as a sham consultation by the council.”

The news has been welcomed by the sponsor of the original Abortion Act 1967, which legalised terminations in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Lord David Steel. Steel, now aged 81, commented: “This is very good news indeed. It is important that we do not go down the same road as America.”

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central, said Steel’s private member’s bill 51 years ago had improved society for the better and welcomed his support for the campaign. She said: “Tonight’s decision is not about the length of time or number of weeks to set limits or any of that but rather keeping women safe who have decided to go through with that process. I am delighted that he has lent his support to this campaign”.

Quick guide

Access to abortion across the UK

How does access to abortion vary across the UK?

The 1967 Abortion Act, which turns 50 this year, legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland. It permits abortion for non-medical reasons up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and with the permission of two doctors. 

Abortion law was devolved to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016. The SNP has reaffirmed its commitment to ​current ​legal protections and to maintaining time limits in line with the rest of the UK​. 

The 1967 ​​act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only when the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. ​​An ​​amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in England was passed by Westminster earlier this year. 

Last weekend, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that regulations allowing Scottish health boards to provide abortion services to women from Northern Ireland would come into force at the beginning of November.

The vote was welcomed by Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director, who called it “landmark decision for women”. He added: “This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

“Ealing council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.”

Earlier Veglio-White told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why her campaign group was fighting for the safe zone. She said: “There is a pavement counsellor at each gate so women cannot avoid them. The gate is narrow so they have to shuffle past … there is no choice but to walk past these people.

“The leaflets they hand out tell women they are going to get breast cancer if they have an abortion … These women are the most vulnerable and need to go to the clinic to speak to a trained counsellor.”

Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network denied that women were being harassed and said more than 500 women had turned around because of their efforts.

“These are women who have no alternative but abortion – illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence. We’re telling them there are alternatives if they want them.”

Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London.


Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Huq said hate mail and foetus dolls had been sent to her parliamentary office after she raised the issue, and that the problem was one that needed a national not just local response.

“My interest in this matter predates me being an MP,” she said. “As a lifelong Ealing resident, I have noticed women seeking to use the Marie Stopes clinic in Mattock Lane being impeded in their wish to access services for the past two decades.

“Of course I value public protest, but intervention in a manner which might be termed emotional blackmail at this point – at the clinic gate, when vulnerable women are proceeding with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives – is not the time or place.”

Over the past six months, authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and two other London boroughs, Lambeth and Richmond, have also discussed taking action.

Manchester city council passed a motion to investigate intimidation and harassment outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield; Birmingham city council discussed a similar motion in December, proposed by two Labour councillors.

More than 113 MPs have also signed a letter, coordinated by Huq, supporting the proposals, including Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as prominent Conservative MPs including Michael Fabricant and Zac Goldsmith.

Ealing council votes for UK’s first ‘safe zone’ around abortion clinic

A west London council has unanimously voted in favour of creating a buffer zone around an abortion clinic to shield women from anti-abortion protesters, in a move that could pave the way for councils across the country to take similar action.

The radical move by Ealing council, which has said it wished to protect women from distress and intimidation at the Marie Stopes clinic, has been backed by high-profile politicians including Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn.

The council voted in favour of implementing a public spaces protection order (PSPO) around the clinic in a cabinet meeting late on Tuesday.

The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network has held regular protests outside the clinic, which have included handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”. The group has denied harassing women going inside the clinic.

Anna Veglio-White, co-founder of the pro-choice organisation Sister Supporter, said women had been asked to pick pink or blue rosaries for the sex of their unborn child, priests had asked women to “give their child a birthday present”, and that women had been approached directly at the front of the clinic.

The unprecedented vote was taken after the council received more than 3,500 responses during a public consultation, which is the biggest single response to a consultation in Ealing ever, according to Labour councillor Binda Rai.

Mark Wiltshire, the director of safer communities and housing, addressed the meeting with the consultation’s findings, which showed that 81% of respondents had seen the concerning behaviours, while 83% had seen explicit imagery. Between 85% and 90% were supportive of the proposed PSPO. Rai noted that of those who responded to oppose the PSPO, only 6.6% actually had an Ealing postcode. In contrast, those who supported it were overwhelmingly local residents.

Following the meeting, the council leader, Julian Bell, said he felt the cabinet had done absolutely the right thing. He said: “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are breaking the ground with this and leading the way. So I’m proud that we are doing it.

“I’m, personally, a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation. We’ve always been clear that that’s what this was about. It wasn’t a debate for or against abortion.”

Veglio-White said she was “completely elated” and said she hoped to see the move repeated across the country, while Elizabeth Howard, a representative for the anti-abortion campaigners, said: “It’s what we expected, after really what can only be described as a sham consultation by the council.”

The news has been welcomed by the sponsor of the original Abortion Act 1967, which legalised terminations in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Lord David Steel. Steel, now aged 81, commented: “This is very good news indeed. It is important that we do not go down the same road as America.”

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central, said Steel’s private member’s bill 51 years ago had improved society for the better and welcomed his support for the campaign. She said: “Tonight’s decision is not about the length of time or number of weeks to set limits or any of that but rather keeping women safe who have decided to go through with that process. I am delighted that he has lent his support to this campaign”.

Quick guide

Access to abortion across the UK

How does access to abortion vary across the UK?

The 1967 Abortion Act, which turns 50 this year, legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland. It permits abortion for non-medical reasons up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and with the permission of two doctors. 

Abortion law was devolved to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016. The SNP has reaffirmed its commitment to ​current ​legal protections and to maintaining time limits in line with the rest of the UK​. 

The 1967 ​​act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only when the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. ​​An ​​amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in England was passed by Westminster earlier this year. 

Last weekend, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that regulations allowing Scottish health boards to provide abortion services to women from Northern Ireland would come into force at the beginning of November.

The vote was welcomed by Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director, who called it “landmark decision for women”. He added: “This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

“Ealing council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.”

Earlier Veglio-White told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why her campaign group was fighting for the safe zone. She said: “There is a pavement counsellor at each gate so women cannot avoid them. The gate is narrow so they have to shuffle past … there is no choice but to walk past these people.

“The leaflets they hand out tell women they are going to get breast cancer if they have an abortion … These women are the most vulnerable and need to go to the clinic to speak to a trained counsellor.”

Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network denied that women were being harassed and said more than 500 women had turned around because of their efforts.

“These are women who have no alternative but abortion – illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence. We’re telling them there are alternatives if they want them.”

Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London.


Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Huq said hate mail and foetus dolls had been sent to her parliamentary office after she raised the issue, and that the problem was one that needed a national not just local response.

“My interest in this matter predates me being an MP,” she said. “As a lifelong Ealing resident, I have noticed women seeking to use the Marie Stopes clinic in Mattock Lane being impeded in their wish to access services for the past two decades.

“Of course I value public protest, but intervention in a manner which might be termed emotional blackmail at this point – at the clinic gate, when vulnerable women are proceeding with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives – is not the time or place.”

Over the past six months, authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and two other London boroughs, Lambeth and Richmond, have also discussed taking action.

Manchester city council passed a motion to investigate intimidation and harassment outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield; Birmingham city council discussed a similar motion in December, proposed by two Labour councillors.

More than 113 MPs have also signed a letter, coordinated by Huq, supporting the proposals, including Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as prominent Conservative MPs including Michael Fabricant and Zac Goldsmith.

Ealing council votes for UK’s first ‘safe zone’ around abortion clinic

A west London council has unanimously voted in favour of creating a buffer zone around an abortion clinic to shield women from anti-abortion protesters, in a move that could pave the way for councils across the country to take similar action.

The radical move by Ealing council, which has said it wished to protect women from distress and intimidation at the Marie Stopes clinic, has been backed by high-profile politicians including Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn.

The council voted in favour of implementing a public spaces protection order (PSPO) around the clinic in a cabinet meeting late on Tuesday.

The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network has held regular protests outside the clinic, which have included handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”. The group has denied harassing women going inside the clinic.

Anna Veglio-White, co-founder of the pro-choice organisation Sister Supporter, said women had been asked to pick pink or blue rosaries for the sex of their unborn child, priests had asked women to “give their child a birthday present”, and that women had been approached directly at the front of the clinic.

The unprecedented vote was taken after the council received more than 3,500 responses during a public consultation, which is the biggest single response to a consultation in Ealing ever, according to Labour councillor Binda Rai.

Mark Wiltshire, the director of safer communities and housing, addressed the meeting with the consultation’s findings, which showed that 81% of respondents had seen the concerning behaviours, while 83% had seen explicit imagery. Between 85% and 90% were supportive of the proposed PSPO. Rai noted that of those who responded to oppose the PSPO, only 6.6% actually had an Ealing postcode. In contrast, those who supported it were overwhelmingly local residents.

Following the meeting, the council leader, Julian Bell, said he felt the cabinet had done absolutely the right thing. He said: “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are breaking the ground with this and leading the way. So I’m proud that we are doing it.

“I’m, personally, a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation. We’ve always been clear that that’s what this was about. It wasn’t a debate for or against abortion.”

Veglio-White said she was “completely elated” and said she hoped to see the move repeated across the country, while Elizabeth Howard, a representative for the anti-abortion campaigners, said: “It’s what we expected, after really what can only be described as a sham consultation by the council.”

The news has been welcomed by the sponsor of the original Abortion Act 1967, which legalised terminations in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Lord David Steel. Steel, now aged 81, commented: “This is very good news indeed. It is important that we do not go down the same road as America.”

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central, said Steel’s private member’s bill 51 years ago had improved society for the better and welcomed his support for the campaign. She said: “Tonight’s decision is not about the length of time or number of weeks to set limits or any of that but rather keeping women safe who have decided to go through with that process. I am delighted that he has lent his support to this campaign”.

Quick guide

Access to abortion across the UK

How does access to abortion vary across the UK?

The 1967 Abortion Act, which turns 50 this year, legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland. It permits abortion for non-medical reasons up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and with the permission of two doctors. 

Abortion law was devolved to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016. The SNP has reaffirmed its commitment to ​current ​legal protections and to maintaining time limits in line with the rest of the UK​. 

The 1967 ​​act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only when the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. ​​An ​​amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in England was passed by Westminster earlier this year. 

Last weekend, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that regulations allowing Scottish health boards to provide abortion services to women from Northern Ireland would come into force at the beginning of November.

The vote was welcomed by Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director, who called it “landmark decision for women”. He added: “This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

“Ealing council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.”

Earlier Veglio-White told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why her campaign group was fighting for the safe zone. She said: “There is a pavement counsellor at each gate so women cannot avoid them. The gate is narrow so they have to shuffle past … there is no choice but to walk past these people.

“The leaflets they hand out tell women they are going to get breast cancer if they have an abortion … These women are the most vulnerable and need to go to the clinic to speak to a trained counsellor.”

Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network denied that women were being harassed and said more than 500 women had turned around because of their efforts.

“These are women who have no alternative but abortion – illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence. We’re telling them there are alternatives if they want them.”

Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London.


Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Huq said hate mail and foetus dolls had been sent to her parliamentary office after she raised the issue, and that the problem was one that needed a national not just local response.

“My interest in this matter predates me being an MP,” she said. “As a lifelong Ealing resident, I have noticed women seeking to use the Marie Stopes clinic in Mattock Lane being impeded in their wish to access services for the past two decades.

“Of course I value public protest, but intervention in a manner which might be termed emotional blackmail at this point – at the clinic gate, when vulnerable women are proceeding with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives – is not the time or place.”

Over the past six months, authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and two other London boroughs, Lambeth and Richmond, have also discussed taking action.

Manchester city council passed a motion to investigate intimidation and harassment outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield; Birmingham city council discussed a similar motion in December, proposed by two Labour councillors.

More than 113 MPs have also signed a letter, coordinated by Huq, supporting the proposals, including Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as prominent Conservative MPs including Michael Fabricant and Zac Goldsmith.

Ealing council votes for UK’s first ‘safe zone’ around abortion clinic

A west London council has unanimously voted in favour of creating a buffer zone around an abortion clinic to shield women from anti-abortion protesters, in a move that could pave the way for councils across the country to take similar action.

The radical move by Ealing council, which has said it wished to protect women from distress and intimidation at the Marie Stopes clinic, has been backed by high-profile politicians including Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn.

The council voted in favour of implementing a public spaces protection order (PSPO) around the clinic in a cabinet meeting late on Tuesday.

The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network has held regular protests outside the clinic, which have included handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”. The group has denied harassing women going inside the clinic.

Anna Veglio-White, co-founder of the pro-choice organisation Sister Supporter, said women had been asked to pick pink or blue rosaries for the sex of their unborn child, priests had asked women to “give their child a birthday present”, and that women had been approached directly at the front of the clinic.

The unprecedented vote was taken after the council received more than 3,500 responses during a public consultation, which is the biggest single response to a consultation in Ealing ever, according to Labour councillor Binda Rai.

Mark Wiltshire, the director of safer communities and housing, addressed the meeting with the consultation’s findings, which showed that 81% of respondents had seen the concerning behaviours, while 83% had seen explicit imagery. Between 85% and 90% were supportive of the proposed PSPO. Rai noted that of those who responded to oppose the PSPO, only 6.6% actually had an Ealing postcode. In contrast, those who supported it were overwhelmingly local residents.

Following the meeting, the council leader, Julian Bell, said he felt the cabinet had done absolutely the right thing. He said: “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are breaking the ground with this and leading the way. So I’m proud that we are doing it.

“I’m, personally, a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation. We’ve always been clear that that’s what this was about. It wasn’t a debate for or against abortion.”

Veglio-White said she was “completely elated” and said she hoped to see the move repeated across the country, while Elizabeth Howard, a representative for the anti-abortion campaigners, said: “It’s what we expected, after really what can only be described as a sham consultation by the council.”

The news has been welcomed by the sponsor of the original Abortion Act 1967, which legalised terminations in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Lord David Steel. Steel, now aged 81, commented: “This is very good news indeed. It is important that we do not go down the same road as America.”

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central, said Steel’s private member’s bill 51 years ago had improved society for the better and welcomed his support for the campaign. She said: “Tonight’s decision is not about the length of time or number of weeks to set limits or any of that but rather keeping women safe who have decided to go through with that process. I am delighted that he has lent his support to this campaign”.

Quick guide

Access to abortion across the UK

How does access to abortion vary across the UK?

The 1967 Abortion Act, which turns 50 this year, legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland. It permits abortion for non-medical reasons up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and with the permission of two doctors. 

Abortion law was devolved to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016. The SNP has reaffirmed its commitment to ​current ​legal protections and to maintaining time limits in line with the rest of the UK​. 

The 1967 ​​act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only when the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. ​​An ​​amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in England was passed by Westminster earlier this year. 

Last weekend, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that regulations allowing Scottish health boards to provide abortion services to women from Northern Ireland would come into force at the beginning of November.

The vote was welcomed by Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director, who called it “landmark decision for women”. He added: “This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

“Ealing council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.”

Earlier Veglio-White told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why her campaign group was fighting for the safe zone. She said: “There is a pavement counsellor at each gate so women cannot avoid them. The gate is narrow so they have to shuffle past … there is no choice but to walk past these people.

“The leaflets they hand out tell women they are going to get breast cancer if they have an abortion … These women are the most vulnerable and need to go to the clinic to speak to a trained counsellor.”

Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network denied that women were being harassed and said more than 500 women had turned around because of their efforts.

“These are women who have no alternative but abortion – illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence. We’re telling them there are alternatives if they want them.”

Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London.


Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Huq said hate mail and foetus dolls had been sent to her parliamentary office after she raised the issue, and that the problem was one that needed a national not just local response.

“My interest in this matter predates me being an MP,” she said. “As a lifelong Ealing resident, I have noticed women seeking to use the Marie Stopes clinic in Mattock Lane being impeded in their wish to access services for the past two decades.

“Of course I value public protest, but intervention in a manner which might be termed emotional blackmail at this point – at the clinic gate, when vulnerable women are proceeding with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives – is not the time or place.”

Over the past six months, authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and two other London boroughs, Lambeth and Richmond, have also discussed taking action.

Manchester city council passed a motion to investigate intimidation and harassment outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield; Birmingham city council discussed a similar motion in December, proposed by two Labour councillors.

More than 113 MPs have also signed a letter, coordinated by Huq, supporting the proposals, including Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as prominent Conservative MPs including Michael Fabricant and Zac Goldsmith.

Ealing council votes for UK’s first ‘safe zone’ around abortion clinic

A west London council has unanimously voted in favour of creating a buffer zone around an abortion clinic to shield women from anti-abortion protesters, in a move that could pave the way for councils across the country to take similar action.

The radical move by Ealing council, which has said it wished to protect women from distress and intimidation at the Marie Stopes clinic, has been backed by high-profile politicians including Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn.

The council voted in favour of implementing a public spaces protection order (PSPO) around the clinic in a cabinet meeting late on Tuesday.

The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network has held regular protests outside the clinic, which have included handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”. The group has denied harassing women going inside the clinic.

Anna Veglio-White, co-founder of the pro-choice organisation Sister Supporter, said women had been asked to pick pink or blue rosaries for the sex of their unborn child, priests had asked women to “give their child a birthday present”, and that women had been approached directly at the front of the clinic.

The unprecedented vote was taken after the council received more than 3,500 responses during a public consultation, which is the biggest single response to a consultation in Ealing ever, according to Labour councillor Binda Rai.

Mark Wiltshire, the director of safer communities and housing, addressed the meeting with the consultation’s findings, which showed that 81% of respondents had seen the concerning behaviours, while 83% had seen explicit imagery. Between 85% and 90% were supportive of the proposed PSPO. Rai noted that of those who responded to oppose the PSPO, only 6.6% actually had an Ealing postcode. In contrast, those who supported it were overwhelmingly local residents.

Following the meeting, the council leader, Julian Bell, said he felt the cabinet had done absolutely the right thing. He said: “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are breaking the ground with this and leading the way. So I’m proud that we are doing it.

“I’m, personally, a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation. We’ve always been clear that that’s what this was about. It wasn’t a debate for or against abortion.”

Veglio-White said she was “completely elated” and said she hoped to see the move repeated across the country, while Elizabeth Howard, a representative for the anti-abortion campaigners, said: “It’s what we expected, after really what can only be described as a sham consultation by the council.”

The news has been welcomed by the sponsor of the original Abortion Act 1967, which legalised terminations in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Lord David Steel. Steel, now aged 81, commented: “This is very good news indeed. It is important that we do not go down the same road as America.”

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central, said Steel’s private member’s bill 51 years ago had improved society for the better and welcomed his support for the campaign. She said: “Tonight’s decision is not about the length of time or number of weeks to set limits or any of that but rather keeping women safe who have decided to go through with that process. I am delighted that he has lent his support to this campaign”.

Quick guide

Access to abortion across the UK

How does access to abortion vary across the UK?

The 1967 Abortion Act, which turns 50 this year, legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland. It permits abortion for non-medical reasons up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and with the permission of two doctors. 

Abortion law was devolved to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016. The SNP has reaffirmed its commitment to ​current ​legal protections and to maintaining time limits in line with the rest of the UK​. 

The 1967 ​​act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only when the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. ​​An ​​amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in England was passed by Westminster earlier this year. 

Last weekend, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that regulations allowing Scottish health boards to provide abortion services to women from Northern Ireland would come into force at the beginning of November.

The vote was welcomed by Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director, who called it “landmark decision for women”. He added: “This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

“Ealing council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.”

Earlier Veglio-White told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why her campaign group was fighting for the safe zone. She said: “There is a pavement counsellor at each gate so women cannot avoid them. The gate is narrow so they have to shuffle past … there is no choice but to walk past these people.

“The leaflets they hand out tell women they are going to get breast cancer if they have an abortion … These women are the most vulnerable and need to go to the clinic to speak to a trained counsellor.”

Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network denied that women were being harassed and said more than 500 women had turned around because of their efforts.

“These are women who have no alternative but abortion – illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence. We’re telling them there are alternatives if they want them.”

Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London.


Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Huq said hate mail and foetus dolls had been sent to her parliamentary office after she raised the issue, and that the problem was one that needed a national not just local response.

“My interest in this matter predates me being an MP,” she said. “As a lifelong Ealing resident, I have noticed women seeking to use the Marie Stopes clinic in Mattock Lane being impeded in their wish to access services for the past two decades.

“Of course I value public protest, but intervention in a manner which might be termed emotional blackmail at this point – at the clinic gate, when vulnerable women are proceeding with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives – is not the time or place.”

Over the past six months, authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and two other London boroughs, Lambeth and Richmond, have also discussed taking action.

Manchester city council passed a motion to investigate intimidation and harassment outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield; Birmingham city council discussed a similar motion in December, proposed by two Labour councillors.

More than 113 MPs have also signed a letter, coordinated by Huq, supporting the proposals, including Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as prominent Conservative MPs including Michael Fabricant and Zac Goldsmith.

Ealing council votes for UK’s first ‘safe zone’ around abortion clinic

A west London council has unanimously voted in favour of creating a buffer zone around an abortion clinic to shield women from anti-abortion protesters, in a move that could pave the way for councils across the country to take similar action.

The radical move by Ealing council, which has said it wished to protect women from distress and intimidation at the Marie Stopes clinic, has been backed by high-profile politicians including Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn.

The council voted in favour of implementing a public spaces protection order (PSPO) around the clinic in a cabinet meeting late on Tuesday.

The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network has held regular protests outside the clinic, which have included handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”. The group has denied harassing women going inside the clinic.

Anna Veglio-White, co-founder of the pro-choice organisation Sister Supporter, said women had been asked to pick pink or blue rosaries for the sex of their unborn child, priests had asked women to “give their child a birthday present”, and that women had been approached directly at the front of the clinic.

The unprecedented vote was taken after the council received more than 3,500 responses during a public consultation, which is the biggest single response to a consultation in Ealing ever, according to Labour councillor Binda Rai.

Mark Wiltshire, the director of safer communities and housing, addressed the meeting with the consultation’s findings, which showed that 81% of respondents had seen the concerning behaviours, while 83% had seen explicit imagery. Between 85% and 90% were supportive of the proposed PSPO. Rai noted that of those who responded to oppose the PSPO, only 6.6% actually had an Ealing postcode. In contrast, those who supported it were overwhelmingly local residents.

Following the meeting, the council leader, Julian Bell, said he felt the cabinet had done absolutely the right thing. He said: “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are breaking the ground with this and leading the way. So I’m proud that we are doing it.

“I’m, personally, a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation. We’ve always been clear that that’s what this was about. It wasn’t a debate for or against abortion.”

Veglio-White said she was “completely elated” and said she hoped to see the move repeated across the country, while Elizabeth Howard, a representative for the anti-abortion campaigners, said: “It’s what we expected, after really what can only be described as a sham consultation by the council.”

The news has been welcomed by the sponsor of the original Abortion Act 1967, which legalised terminations in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Lord David Steel. Steel, now aged 81, commented: “This is very good news indeed. It is important that we do not go down the same road as America.”

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central, said Steel’s private member’s bill 51 years ago had improved society for the better and welcomed his support for the campaign. She said: “Tonight’s decision is not about the length of time or number of weeks to set limits or any of that but rather keeping women safe who have decided to go through with that process. I am delighted that he has leant his support to this campaign”.

Quick guide

Access to abortion across the UK

How does access to abortion vary across the UK?

The 1967 Abortion Act, which turns 50 this year, legalised terminations in England, Wales and Scotland. It permits abortion for non-medical reasons up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and with the permission of two doctors. 

Abortion law was devolved to Holyrood as part of the Scotland Act 2016. The SNP has reaffirmed its commitment to ​current ​legal protections and to maintaining time limits in line with the rest of the UK​. 

The 1967 ​​act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland only when the pregnancy poses a direct threat to the mother’s life. ​​An ​​amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in England was passed by Westminster earlier this year. 

Last weekend, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, confirmed that regulations allowing Scottish health boards to provide abortion services to women from Northern Ireland would come into force at the beginning of November.

The vote was welcomed by Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director, who called it “landmark decision for women”. He added: “This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

“Ealing council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.”

Earlier Veglio-White told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme why her campaign group was fighting for the safe zone. She said: “There is a pavement counsellor at each gate so women cannot avoid them. The gate is narrow so they have to shuffle past … there is no choice but to walk past these people.

“The leaflets they hand out tell women they are going to get breast cancer if they have an abortion … These women are the most vulnerable and need to go to the clinic to speak to a trained counsellor.”

Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network denied that women were being harassed and said more than 500 women had turned around because of their efforts.

“These are women who have no alternative but abortion – illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence. We’re telling them there are alternatives if they want them.”

Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London.


Pro-choice campaigners outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, west London. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer

Huq said hate mail and foetus dolls had been sent to her parliamentary office after she raised the issue, and that the problem was one that needed a national not just local response.

“My interest in this matter predates me being an MP,” she said. “As a lifelong Ealing resident, I have noticed women seeking to use the Marie Stopes clinic in Mattock Lane being impeded in their wish to access services for the past two decades.

“Of course I value public protest, but intervention in a manner which might be termed emotional blackmail at this point – at the clinic gate, when vulnerable women are proceeding with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives – is not the time or place.”

Over the past six months, authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and two other London boroughs, Lambeth and Richmond, have also discussed taking action.

Manchester city council passed a motion to investigate intimidation and harassment outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield; Birmingham city council discussed a similar motion in December, proposed by two Labour councillors.

More than 113 MPs have also signed a letter, coordinated by Huq, supporting the proposals, including Corbyn and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as prominent Conservative MPs including Michael Fabricant and Zac Goldsmith.

We’re entitled to eat safe meat. Why has that become such a lottery? | Felicity Lawrence

Here we go again: all the signs of another scandal involving meat and food safety. The first stirrings were in January, and while the authorities seem to have kept the lid on it for the moment, it has the feel of previous crises over food supply that have erupted after initial rumblings. There is confusion about what’s actually happened, and arguments over whether rules have been broken. The food watchdog has been accused once again of being too heavy-handed as steaks have disappeared from high street menus. It’s a fairly safe bet that there is more to come. The difference this time is that the structures that were set up to protect the public after previous crises are crumbling.

The Food Standards Agency was created in 2001 asa central regulator after a series of food and farming scandals, with a mission to put consumers’ interests first. It depends on a functioning partnership with local authorities, which remain responsible for much food testing, inspection and enforcement. But savage cuts to councils’ budgets have forced them to squeeze trading standards and environmental health teams so hard that many struggle to fulfil their statutory obligations around food.

The agency itself has proposed a major shake-up of the way it oversees food businesses. It wants to shift responsibility for inspection and the cost of it on to industry itself. Reducing the burden on business with light-touch regulation has become its mantra. Private assurance schemes will increasingly take over from government-employed inspectors, and businesses that are generally compliant are to be rewarded with fewer inspections. We seem to have forgotten that it was companies deemed to be low risk that were at the heart of food adulteration scandals involving horsemeat and illegal cancer-causing dye.

The FSA has been tight-lipped about the current problem, and so far we have few details about its exact nature. The little we have been told has been expressed in the inelegant jargon of the trade: “serious non-compliance issues around use-by dates and food safety management systems” in companies that few people have heard of.

Russell Hume, a large supplier of meat to pubs, restaurants and hotels was first. It had its cutting plants closed by the FSA in January and was told to withdraw all its products after an random unannounced audit by agency inspectors. The company was dispatching hundreds of tonnes of meat a week to many large customers, but it had no public face, so the embarrassment was felt by the big names who bought from it – especially JD Wetherspoon and Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurants. The FSA has said it is still investigating a “serious and widespread” problem at the company. As Russell Hume collapsed into administration this week, it attacked the FSA for acting disproportionately, and said relabelling was industry-wide because the rules were not clear.

The withdrawals spread: to DB Foods, a sister company of and supplier to Muscle Meats, and then to Fairfax Meadows, another giant supplier to the catering trade, with customers including Nando’s, and other high-profile hotel, restaurant and pub chains. All have said they take food safety very seriously and have cooperated with voluntary withdrawals. Wetherspoon’s had just switched a third of its supply away from Russell Hume to Fairfax Meadows, only to suffer a double withdrawal.

Now the Guardian has learned that another meat wholesaler has also voluntarily withdrawn some of its products – Midland Food Services was inspected after the Russell Hume investigation, and officers reported a mouse infestation. The withdrawal began on 9 February but the FSA kept quiet about it. The public has still not been told where it was exposed to this unhygienically produced meat, although the company says it was a few droppings rather than an infestation, that the problem is now solved, and that restrictions have been lifted. As officials look up and down the chain to see who has been sending what to whom, an ever-wider web of companies will be drawn in. Will we be told about these, or will their names be kept quiet too?

Instead of the transparency on which the FSA was founded, we have been given what have now become the usual reassurances from the regulator: no one known to be ill, let alone dead as a result, nothing much to share here.

Although we are in the dark about many aspects of the latest meat relabelling, we know from previous scandals what sort of concerns arise. Food safety depends on being able to trace meat right through the food chain, and on a series of rules about identifying the source of meat and when it was produced.

Procedures on use-by dates and relabelling are not merely nerdy technical points. They can be life-or-death matters. Read the FSA’s guidance on repacking stored meat, and you can see why. It is common practice in the meat industry to vacuum pack fresh meat once it is slaughtered and cut. Removing the oxygen prevents spoilage and can keep meat looking good for months. When you open the pack it deteriorates rapidly and can smell terrible for a while, but more importantly the potentially deadly bacterium Clostridium botulinum can grow even in a vac pac.

Because of this, regulations require that meat off the carcass is given a 10-day shelf life. If you unpack and repack it, you are supposed to apply the original use-by date unless you have cooked it or have other methods of control in place. But parts of the industry, the guidance says, give meat a rolling 10-day shelf life, a practice it condemns because it can add extra days or even weeks and months. Cases of botulism food poisoning are rare, but since it is potentially lethal these safety procedures are crucial. Deaths from fires caused by unsafe cladding seemed a remote risk too until, at Grenfell, they tragically weren’t.

All meat must also be labelled with official health marks to make it possible to trace it back to the original licensed slaughterhouse and date of processing, so that consumers can be sure it is safe and is what it claims to be.

Journalists have repeatedly found hygiene and labelling concerns where auditors have seen none. Guardian investigations have reported such things in 2001, in 2014 and in 2017.

Undercover inside the chicken factory – video

Separate from these, we know from previous prosecutions that audits that tend to concentrate on paperwork and tick-boxes can be cheated. Previous official investigations have also revealed how extraordinarily easy it is to fake health marks and rewrite use-by dates and traceability notes. You just need a printer and you can churn out new ones with different dates or with marks hijacked from other factories and apply them to boxes of meat mixed with any old horse, undeclared offal or head meat.

Local authority sampling and testing of foods fell by a quarter in 2017. At the same time council public analyst laboratories that carry out these tests are disappearing, as their work for depleted trading standards teams dries up. These cuts may seem safe to make. They’re not. Will it take a serious outbreak of food-borne illness for the government to realise what we are losing? Felicity Lawrence is a Guardian special correspondent and author of Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on your Plate