/ Food & Drink, Health

Are lessons being learned from previous food scares?

Mornging newspaper illustation

In recent weeks we’ve heard news of a national salmonella outbreak, an investigation exposing unacceptably high levels of campylobacter in chicken and, most recently, news of a strike by meat inspectors.

Last year food fraud dominated the news, with the widespread contamination of beef products with horsemeat. The scandal highlighted the fragility of the food supply chain but also consumer confidence in the industry.

The food industry is one of the few sectors that is well trusted, but six in 10 people said they had changed their shopping and eating habits as a result of the scandal and trust in the industry dipped.

Unfortunately, horsemeat was not the only high profile incident of food fraud in the supply chain. Our undercover investigation into lamb takeaways found 40% were adulterated with other meats. Although it wasn’t a safety issue, it should have been a wake-up call that put food quality controls higher up the Government’s agenda but this seemingly hasn’t happened.

It’s not just consumers who are affected by food fraud, as good businesses will also suffer a competitive disadvantage if the rogues cutting corners aren’t caught and punished.

We need a strong and effective FSA

Following the horsemeat scandal, inquiries were launched by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee and National Audit Office raising concerns about policy responsibilities and the inadequacy of meat controls, but the momentum has been lost. The Elliott report, commissioned by the Government to look into the wider integrity and assurance of food supply chains, still has yet to be published.

We can’t afford to be complacent. Elliott’s interim report highlighted the need for a zero tolerance approach to food crime that puts consumer interests first. He highlighted the importance of intelligence gathering, surveillance, tougher industry checks and tighter Government controls as well as the need to give policy responsibility for food standards back to the FSA. Elliott’s final recommendations need to be published and acted upon.

The FSA was created because of the need for food issues to be dealt with independently and transparently without any conflicts of interest. It has a clear and unambiguous remit to put consumer interests first.

Now, more than ever, we need a strong and effective FSA. This is not only in the interest of consumers but also the industry.

The Government needs to take a more proactive approach to food policy, ensuring a joined up approach that tackles the risks facing the supply chain in the short and long-term. Crucially, it needs to support an independent FSA that can stand up for consumers and intervene on their behalf to ensure we can have greater confidence in the safety and quality of what we eat.

This post first appeared on The Grocer.


In the 80s the Secretary for Health, Edwina Currie shocked the nation by saying that most UK egg production is affected by Salmonella. Recently the Food Standards Agency launched a campaign to persuade us not to wash chicken because about 60% of supermarket chicken carries Campylobacter, the most common cause of food poisoning. That was well reported, but this time there seems to have been no panic and I have seen no reports of people stopping buying chicken. Perhaps the problem of Campylobacter in poultry was already well known to cause a panic.

If most chickens are contaminated we urgently need to take action to improve animal husbandry and the processing of the meat, not just warn the public that it’s too risky to wash them before cooking.

Excerpts from:

“Campylobacter is considered to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year. More than 72,000 of these were confirmed to be campylobacter poisoning (also known as campylobacteriosis) by laboratory reports.”

“previous estimates have indicated that campylobacter causes more than 100 deaths a year, and costs the UK economy about £900 million. About four in five cases of campylobacter poisoning in the UK come from contaminated poultry.”

“The three major public UK funders of Campylobacter research currently spend more than £4 million per year to address basic, applied and policy related research.”

“A survey3 carried out by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of Campylobacter in chicken on retail sale in the UK between May 2007 and September 2008, reported that Campylobacter was present in 65% of the fresh chicken samples tested.”

“The aim was to reduce the percentage of the most heavily contaminated chickens, with more than 1,000 colony forming units per gram of chicken (cfu/g) at the end of the slaughter process, from a baseline level of 27% in 2008 to 19% by 2013, and to 10% by 2015.”

“Monitoring data to September 2013 show there is no evidence of a change in the proportion of most highly contaminated birds since 2008”

“Likely to be more cost effective to monitor than at retail, as fewer premises to sample.”

“Industry could also incentivise producers to reduce flock colonisation by rewarding those who have no, or low, levels of campylobacter infection pre-slaughter.”

I find the above staggering.

It appears there are far too many agencies, committees, sub-committees, etc all doing their bit.

It appears there are many trials going on, but the one thing I have not read is “FIND THE SOURCE AND STAMP IT OUT.”

I find it unacceptable that a lot of money is being spent on vaccines and bio-chemicals to cater for campylobacter when it could be better spent on eradicating it at source. Any chicken farms with campylobacter should be shut down, thoroughly cleaned up and started again with clean stock. It should be government funded and will save money in the long run as it would prevent the bacteria from getting into the ground and water supply therefore making the problem worse in the future. It would also have a positive impact on the NHS.

There have been many reports and tv programmes recently highlighting problems and bad practices within the food industry.

One programme highlighted a chicken processing plant that worked slowly when food inspectors were present.

Perhaps cctv should be installed at all food production sites so they can be constantly monitored and food inspectors sent to where they are needed.

I think you’re asking the wrong group of people. Seems like alot of food scares are caused by poor process employed by a few manufacturers/suppliers and those intent on fraudulent activity. Unless penalties are upped massively and some of that ploughed back into enforcement nothing will get better.

With all such matters it is the strength of the industry lobbyists that keeps the status quo and nothing ever gets done until the “big event” hits the paper and even then it gets quickly tucked away in talking shops until it disappears for ever. The pollution, toxic sugar and incipients, GM and poisons are allowed free rain because of a very strong lobby industry and other unmentionable inducements for no action. The lack of independant policing is disgraceful with cut backs in this task force just playing to the industry needs. I wonder if the BSE spine material is being properly removed in the slaughter houses to prevent this dread disease or do we wait until someone comes out and tells the population the escalating truth. Toxic/poison ingredients in food and cosmetics being allowed to contaminate the population creating tomorrows health problems and only being dealt with when uncovered. Then they make out they are the good guys eg “this cosmetic is paraben free”….why use a carcogenic in the first place.
Where industry causes an issue then the NHS should back charge the cost of saving the effected individual from their profit driven crime.