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LONDON-Thousands of meat-handling businesses could be subject to new health and safety legislation and licensing arrangements if recommendations made following the E. coli food poisoning outbreak last month in Scotland are accepted by the government's Scottish office.

Michael Forsyth, Scotland's Secretary of State, told Parliament in London earlier this month that the outbreak, which killed 17 people and infected 400 others, "has raised some fundamental questions about current food safety procedures."

Mr. Forsyth went on to outline the recommendations in a report commissioned by the government following the outbreak.

In a related development, John Barr, the Scottish butcher believed to be at the center of the E. coli food poisoning outbreak, was charged earlier this month with culpable and reckless conduct. Mr. Barr is accused of supplying contaminated cooked meat from his shop in Wishaw on Nov. 23, 1996. The business is an award-winning butcher shop that supplies more than 60 outlets throughout central Scotland.

The Lord Advocate has emphasized that public interest demands that any criminal trial should go ahead as soon as possible.

A fatal accident inquiry, a civil proceeding to determine causes of death and how the deaths occurred, will take place after the criminal proceedings are completed, Mr. Forsyth said.

Previous, smaller scale E. coli outbreaks in the United Kingdom already have led to compensation claims against the government, McDonald's Restaurants Ltd.-the U.K. arm of McDonald's Corp.-and various meat suppliers (BI, Dec. 16, 1996).

The government-commissioned report recommends "urgent consideration of legislation and action to enable selective licensing of premises handling, producing or selling cooked meat or cooked meat products, which are not currently approved under the Meat Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1995."

"The target premises for licensing would be butchers and producers who are handling raw and cooked meats, whether at retail, preparation or wholesale," the report said.

Canneries, not already approved, also could be included, the report suggested.

"Around 1,000 premises may be affected in Scotland," according to the report. However, if the regulations are accepted they will apply throughout the rest of Britain.

The Scottish will consult with several parties before deciding whether or how to accept the recommendations. There is no timetable for a decision.

Licenses would be renewed annually and could be revoked if conditions were considered a risk to public health.

National license conditions should be established that "would enable the food authority to require as a condition of licensing the education/training of staff, the separation of cooked and raw meats, that adequate arrangements for product recall exist, and that the labeling and recordkeeping of distribution of product is maintained," the report suggests.

Other recommendations include a review of the Food Hazard Warning System, by which Health Departments are warned of food poisoning outbreaks, and the better targeting of food hygiene inspections.