Food Hygiene Rating Bill backed in Welsh assembly vote

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Media captionAbout 30,000 businesses in Wales will be covered by the food rating scheme

Wales is to become the first part of the UK to force restaurants and cafes to display their hygiene ratings.

Welsh assembly members voted unanimously to introduce a law that will make the ratings compulsory.

The Food Hygiene Ratings (Wales) Bill will now await Royal Assent.

The scheme already works voluntarily, but business leaders have expressed concern over the "scores on the doors" system.

Health Minister Lesley Griffiths led the debate in the Senedd. Opposition party amendments on issues including whether the ratings should be published on websites or leaflets were defeated, although many of the details about the implementation of the scheme will be revisited by AMs when a consultation on regulations begins in the spring.

The new law seeks to build on a voluntary scheme, in which restaurants, takeaways and supermarkets in Wales display food hygiene ratings.

Businesses will be rated with a score of between 0 and 5 - with 0 meaning urgent improvement is necessary and a 5 meaning hygiene standards are very good.

Ratings will have to be displayed in a prominent position or businesses will face a fine.

Business leaders have previously said the Welsh government has not been vigorous enough in assessing the impact the law may have on firms.

'Public deserves transparency'

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has expressed concern that the ratings system will be extended to producers and wholesalers.

Meanwhile, Consumer Focus Wales (CFW) had concerns that businesses could be given 21 days to appeal against the ratings, meaning a possible delay of almost two months before the information is displayed.

Both organisations gave evidence to the assembly's Health and Social Care Committee last year.

Sharon Mills, whose son Mason Jones died in Wales' largest E. coli outbreak, backs the law.

Mason, from Deri, near Bargoed, Rhymney Valley, died in 2005. A further 157 people, mostly children, became ill during the outbreak.

A butcher was prosecuted for breaking food safety laws and was jailed for a year in 2007.

Ms Mills said before the AMs' vote: "I think it's very important because the public deserves transparency. It is what we've called for since the outbreak in 2005 and I believe the public have a right to know if the food they're eating is safe."

She did not think the current voluntary scheme was enough, because the public needed to know, and know the reasons for a low score.

Mandatory display

She could not say that the scheme would have saved her son, but there was "strong evidence from around the world that shows that mandatory display is extremely effective".

Professor Hugh Pennington, who chaired a public inquiry into the 2005 outbreak, said the system meant consumers could have "trust in the business that's based on actual evidence in front of their eyes".

"It's also an advantage to the business as well because it's almost... a certificate of approval," he added.

But Iestyn Davies, of the FSB Wales, said the voluntary scheme was already working and there were "contradictions" in the proposed legislation.

He added: "What we said to the committee was, if you really want to drive out bad practice, have a simple pass-fail kind of criteria and really reward those businesses who are going the extra mile."

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