/ Food & Drink, Health

Will a new hotline crack down on food fraud?

Junk food cartons with skull and crossbones, symbolising food fraud

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 (foodcrime@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk).

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?

Comments
Member

Having traveled round many restaurants in a large city when working for BT I have come across all sorts of environmental health issues inside foreign food eateries . Imported packed food containing dubious contents , fish left outside in pails of water , snails crawling over produce in cold basement storage , grease covered kitchens –YES ! Gordon Ramsey is right . One premises raided by local health officials and an Alsatian removed from deep freeze -yes shop was closed down – owners prosecuted . Cats used as “chicken ” -a long list more . While its not BT policy to cause its business customers trouble I was so disgusted with one restaurant I reported it and told the engineering control staff , many engineers kept asking me where it was so that they wouldn’t visit it, The cod and haddock situation in the convo is down entirely to economics . It is well known that in England people eat cod first and foremost in a chip shop but in Scotland its the other way around people eat haddock and dont buy cod . As a result you can see price reductions on both products in supermarkets in relation to area of the UK . Whiting ( to me ) as an ex sporting sea fisherman , tastes rubbish , has anybody eat it plainly cooked without the 1001 sauces etc used to hide the cardboard taste ? I dont want to put anybody off but when young my mother boiled a cod as it cooked the surface was covered thickly in fish flukes /worms , while I am told they are not harmful I was nearly sick looking at it.

Member

In answer to the central question, I doubt it. People who are poisoned by a restaurant usually make some comments to someone about the matter, but I’ve long wondered why there was a such a fuss about the horse meat saga. As far as I’m aware it does no one any harm and, in fact, it could be highly beneficial for us all to consume a much wider variety of meats, if we are meat eaters, of course.

But there are two strands to this: potentially unfit or harmful food and mislabelled food. On the former, good policing is an essential strategy in the food industry, but I can’t become too concerned about the latter. Were I a meat eater I would see no reason why Horse, Dog and Cat didn’t appear on our shelves and in restaurants. So why do I doubt the hotline efficacy? Simply because it provides a very quick and easy way for people to create problems for a restaurant or store they dislike. I’ve always mistrusted ‘confidential’ hotlines: they’re routinely abused by vindictive individuals in Social Services, for instance and I could imagine the trolls of this world turning in droves to a ‘phone number providing a ‘completely confidential’ reporting facility. But that may simply be me.

Member

I think a lot of the fuss around the horse meat saga wasn’t that people were eating a different type of animal, but that as they weren’t meant for food they could have been given drugs that are harmful to humans when passed down the food chain.
In response to the main question, I’m not sure if anyone would report food poisoning, or if they would put it down to a bug.

Member

Ian, Of course you are right about meat, or any product that is unfit for human consumption needing to be properly policed and there needs to be stronger laws to convict any culprits!

I think, however, that you are totally wrong about ‘mislabelled’ food, it is contrary to the Trades Description Act and is very much ILLEGAL!

I am a meat eater and I have travelled extensively to France, and other EU countries, where it is commonplace to eat horse meat, and, let me add, I have often eaten it and there is nothing wrong in that, so long as you know! However the main difference is that the French and other Europeans, do not falsely claim that is is any other kind of meat – they declare it up front and on their menu’s!

Many shops and restaurants declare their product to be ‘free range’ , ‘organic’, ‘genuine’, ‘Scottish’, ‘Scampi’
‘Loch Fyne’, ‘sea caught’ when it’s ‘farmed’, and the list goes on….. when it’s simply not! This is out and out fraud and in many cases costs much more than the product actually being provided!

You are also wrong about hotlines, whether they are confidential or not, they are not just used by trolls or trouble makers, they are usually used by people who need support, as is evidenced by the many hotlines available, like ‘Internet Fraud’, ‘Childline’, ‘TPS’, ‘ICO’ and many more!

It is also quite obvious that the collective does better than the single voice in many things, for example, in many of the campaigns and petitions raised by ‘Which?’ and the like!

People can, and often do complain in restaurants, usually about poor meals, rather than ‘fraudulent descriptions’, which is much more difficult to prove, and needs some form of officialdom to be involved! Also many people are too frightened to take on shops / restaurants on their own!

You, of course are perfectly entitled to your opinion, but as you chose to voice it on a public platform, I feel equally entitled to disagree and dispute your statement!

Member
Roberta says:
1 September 2016

You may think that eating horse disguised as something else doesn’t hurt anyone but it has the potential to cause us great harm. Because the meat isn’t regulated the same as in the legitimate food industry then horses may be eaten within a few days of having been given powerful drugs which are potentially very dangerous to humans. We had a horse who was on steroids for a long period of time and we were warned that his body should never go into the food chain as it could be very dangerous.

Member

You make your points passionately and effectively, but I wasn’t disparaging hotlines in general – merely those that allow anonymous tips. If you re-read what I said you will see I was quite precise in that.

Member

I agree; and, again, I wasn’t for a minute suggesting that serving different food from what was being claimed was right. My point, really, was that we actually have what has become a very restricted diet. In the UK that’s largely limited to Cattle, Sheep, Pigs and intensively farmed poultry which, in some ways, can be worse for you than eating food outside of the norm. There is, in fact, growing evidence that our diets are too restricted to be healthy, now, and may actually be exacerbating our growing allergy issue.

But really that was all something of an aside in relation to my main point which was that I doubt the value of a confidential hotline .

Member
Leonard says:
2 September 2016

If I buy bovine meat I don’t want horse meat regardless if it contains unknown drugs or not.