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.