Farmer who made fortune on government program faces jail for importing Chinese antibiotics
A champion chicken farmer who made his fortune on RHI stood before “beak” last week for committing “poultry” by importing illegal Chinese antibiotics.
aul Hobson, who was publicly appointed in 2017 after claiming more than £ 600,000 (€ 714,000) in four years under the controversial renewable heat incentive scheme, has pleaded guilty at Dungannon Crown Court to three counts of unauthorized drugs.
Two of them concern the importation of an unauthorized veterinary medicinal product, namely amoxicillin, a penicillin-based antibiotic.
Two more charges have not been upheld and the 59-year-old Mullybrannon Road man Dungannon is due to be sentenced in the New Year.
In 2017, it emerged that he owned 13 RHI boilers and was the fifth beneficiary in a long list of non-domestic claimants, having received £ 659,540 – although there is no suggestion that he did anything thing wrong.
The botched scheme, dubbed ‘Cash for Ash’, was a failed renewable energy (wood pellet burning) incentive scheme reportedly costing the public purse nearly £ 500million.
The plan, launched in 2012, was overseen by the government which failed to introduce proper cost controls, which allowed it to spiral out of control.
Hobson, who had been one of Moy Park’s biggest suppliers, won several awards for his farming and welfare methods.
He was named Moy Park’s Farmer of the Year six years ago and also won the High Welfare Standard award.
But his chickens came home to roost when Moy Park terminated his contract with him and last night a source told Sunday World: “Paul Hobson will never supply Moy Park again.” “
This week, Hobson told Sunday World it had been “a very costly mistake” after he was suspended from keeping birds on his farm – which has a capacity of 170,000 chickens – after his arrest two years ago. year.
Initially he told us he would need to speak to his lawyer before commenting, but then told us he bought the antibiotics in China and did not intend to use them. for anything other than proper methods.
Antibiotics can be used for animal welfare reasons but are strictly regulated and should only be prescribed by a veterinarian. But they can also be used as growth promoters to reduce the amount of food needed to bring a bird to slaughter weight.
Hobson insisted this week that it was something he was not interested in and said after his arrest all of his birds had been tested and nothing untoward had been found.
“It’s difficult to have a vet and I have so many birds that I thought it would be faster and better for the welfare of the birds,” he told us.
“But that turned out to be a very costly mistake. I got suspended and lost all my birds. I was only interested in the welfare of the birds, nothing else.”
Hobson – who also runs a tanning salon at his chicken farm – said he was told the maximum sentence could be eight months behind bars, but he hoped it wouldn’t, having pleaded guilty .
In October 2019, an investigation was opened to determine whether the antibiotics seized at a UK airport were intended for poultry meat produced in Northern Ireland.
The BBC reported at the time, without identifying Paul Hobson, how a Co Tyrone farm had been searched and items seized.
A spokesperson for the health ministry said the investigation was being led by the health ministry’s drug regulatory group.
“Daera, as part of its statutory role in monitoring and sampling for veterinary drug residues in food-producing animals, is providing investigation assistance,” the spokesperson said at the time.
Moy Park immediately took action to ensure that the poultry on Hobson’s farm was not intended for human consumption.
Authorities and industry have been working hard to try to reduce the use of antibiotics in agriculture to fight antimicrobial resistance.
This can lead to the development of disease resistant superbugs which can be transmitted to humans and are difficult to treat.
The seizure of the antibiotics was first reported by the Guardian newspaper, which said it was a Chinese-made shipment of amoxicillin.
Moy Park confirmed that the investigation centered on a private farm supplying it.
In 2019, the chicken giant said: “This matter is currently under investigation by the relevant authorities and we believe it to be an isolated incident.”
He said the industry was subject to “robust antibiotic residue monitoring procedures” conducted by government veterinarians. He said test results at his supply farms were negative.
“Any violation of the strict regulations on the use of veterinary medicine is illegal and completely unacceptable to us.”
In 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health jointly launched a five-year plan to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance.
Hobson appeared in Dungannon Crown Court where a defense lawyer asked Judge Peter Irvine QC to proceed directly to sentencing. But the judge refused and decided that pre-sentence reports were required.
He has placed Hobson on continuous £ 500 bail and ordered him to return to be sentenced next month.
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