The Tallinn Administrative Court on Monday heard a complaint by the company M.V.Wool against a ruling by the Veterinary and Food Board (VTA) ordering the company to close down production and destroy inventories, and is about to rule on the company's request for a temporary injunction by Tuesday evening, public broadcaster ERR reported.
Allar Jõks, attorney for M.V.Wool, told the court that an outbreak of the disease exceeding normal occurrence of the infection has not been registered in Estonia and asked whether a month ago, when the positive listeria sample was taken, the danger of contracting the disease was smaller than now, when the VTA made the decision to close down the plants.
Jõks also said that the European Union has determined with its norms when a product is safe and member states cannot act on their own to impose stricter limits, but can impose less strict ones. Jõks said that since the listeria bacterium has not been found in any product in excess of valid norms, he doesn't consider the actions of VTA with regard to the manufacturer to be sincere.
Jõks said it would have been necessary for the ruling issued by the VTA to also bear the signature of the minister of rural affairs, and that in the opinion of M.V.Wool the precept of VTA comes without any legal grounds and can not be deemed a regulation as described in the law.
The VTA has not cited any extraordinary circumstance related to the violation of food safety requirements, such as an outbreak of the disease he said. Therefore Jõks said he cannot understand the demand to destroy €1.3 million worth of products. The attorney finds that the admittance by the VTA that they are lacking the resource to take samples from production enterprises on a current and continuous basis can be seen as an admittance that the demand for all of the factory's output to be destroyed is disproportionate.
A representative of the VTA meanwhile said that zero tolerance was imposed on the producer since the producer has not proven that valid EU norms for the maximum presence of listeria have not been exceeded in its products. Zero tolerance does not entail establishing the numerical presence of the find. The burden of proof, according to the VTA, rests with the producer, which had to conduct durability tests, not demand conduct from VTA. Since the company had not fulfilled the obligation, zero tolerance was imposed on it.
The VTA's representative said, an outbreak of the disease has been proven, and listeria bacterium of the ST1247 strain has been tracked down to the company's products and its content in excess of valid norms has been detected in samples on multiple occasions, which M.V. Wool has been denying all the time. There have been 26 cases of illness ascribed to said strain in Europe, including six cases of death, two of which occurred in Estonia. Hence the VTA interprets it as an international outbreak of the disease.
The VTA said the decision to have the plant closed down is due to the inability to eliminate said bacteria strain from production facilities, as a result of which the strain mutates in time to become ever more resistant. The VTA emphasized that the producer did nothing on its own initiative and voluntarily, and that disinfection of the plants was carried out following the zero tolerance demand by VTA. Cleansing of the plant has not been successful, according to the VTA, as listeria was found at both plants of M.V.Wool after the procedure was carried out.
VTA said it issued a second precept to the producer already on March 27, ordering M.V.Wool to identify and eliminate the centers of infection, yet the company did not start doing it.
M.V.Wool is to come up with its positions in writing by Monday evening. The court's ruling is to be ready by Tuesday evening.
The court is to start hearing the case itself in the week starting Dec. 16.
Editor: Helen Wright