Food Standards Scotland has teamed up with charity Crimestoppers to launch a food fraud hotline for Scotland. So can this hotline crack down on this crime?
The main types of food fraud are:
- Food that is unfit or harmful (the kind that makes you unwell)
- Food that is not authentic (mislabelled or missold), or
- Food that is stolen and/or illegally slaughtered (like meat or wild game)
In 2014, as part of our Stop Food Fraud campaign, we bought 45 portions of fish labelled as haddock or cod from fish and chip shops in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. We tested the fish DNA to find out what was really in it. We found two portions in Manchester that were being sold as cod were, in fact, haddock. In Glasgow, five sold as haddock were actually whiting. Whiting easily passes for cod or haddock and is a cheaper fish, often used in fish meal and pet food. But that doesn’t make it right.
Also in 2014, we undertook exclusive DNA testing on lamb takeaways. What we found shocked us. Of the 60 meals we tested, 24 had meat other than lamb in them, and seven had no lamb at all! Our results are not isolated cases. Trading Standards and Environmental Health Officers in Falkirk, Leicester, Warwickshire and West Yorkshire have found similar levels of fraud in lamb takeaways.
Will better reporting lead to safer food?
Food Standards Scotland (FSS) was set up in the aftermath of the horsemeat scandal (and our campaign about it) to ensure the food we eat is safe and authentic. That incident – and current worries about Campylobacter in chicken – have thrown a spotlight on food fraud. All the companies involved in getting food to our tables are vulnerable to this crime, so this news is welcome.
However, not all companies supplying food to Scotland are based in Scotland. So it is crucial that Scottish agencies (such as FSS and Police Scotland) work with other similar UK and EU agencies to make the most of the intelligence they get in Scotland. Only then will we be able to tackle food crime no matter where the food has come from or where it is sold.
What will the new hotline do?
In September 2015, a new Scottish Food Crime Incident Unit was created to tackle food fraud. To do this it will keep a look out for dishonest food suppliers. The new hotline will be the first port of call for people who have tip-offs, so that the Unit can tackle any crimes head-on.
The hotline will be solely for people who want to raise the alarm anonymously to FSS. As well as being available to the public, this will be a much needed tool for whistleblowers working in the food and drink industry.
So if you happen to know about a food crime in Scotland, or you’ve seen something that looks dodgy, then the hotline number is: 0800 028 7926. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This isn’t the only way for people in Scotland to report food fraud, but it should be a much quicker and easier way to report it. Most importantly, it is totally confidential.
The National Food Crime Unit has also launched Food Crime Confidential, where people in the rest of the UK can report food crime over the phone (0207 276 8787) or by email (email@example.com).
Why is food law enforcement important?
We rely on good law enforcement when it comes to keeping our food safe – the consequences of dodgy or fake food can range from unpleasant to dangerous.
Our Scottish research from February 2015 found that people have high expectations of food policing. Of those surveyed, 99% said they thought it’s important that local councils enforce food safety rules and 95% in the case of food labelling rules.
We need to have enough controls in place to police food law. The FSS, local councils and others must take the lead in spotting risks and making sure that their checks are enough to keep food safe.
So what do you think about food fraud? Are you worried about the safety of your food? Do you think this hotline will help cut down on the amount of food fraud in Scotland?