Twelve months after the horsemeat scandal fiasco and our latest research shows that half of consumers say they have changed their shopping habits. Here’s more from my article in The Grocer.
A third say they are buying less meat and a quarter of people told us they are buying less processed meat. The Elliott Review’s interim report published in December, followed several other inquiries as well as our own recent research, and showed there now needs to be some fundamental changes to how food issues are handled and enforced.
Elliott emphasised the importance of putting consumers first and zero tolerance, lessons that were learned following the BSE crisis but are now being steadily undermined. He highlighted the need for a culture change across the industry, including more questioning of why the price being offered by suppliers can really be so low, and a systematic approach to tackling food crime at all levels.
Handing over food safety responsibility
Crucial to ensuring that consumers are much better protected in the future is the role of the Food Standards Agency. There has been a consensus across the inquiries into the horsemeat fiasco that moving food labelling and standards policy, out of the FSA and into Defra, was short-sighted and caused confusion. This now needs to be reversed so that there is a much closer link between enforcement and policy. There needs to be clarity of roles and responsibilities and we want food standards issues to be dealt with by the FSA which has an unambiguous remit to put consumers first.
Horsemeat also taught some crucial lessons about the importance of anticipating risks to the food supply chain. Among Elliott’s recommendations on this point is the need for an economic intelligence hub within the FSA. A far better understanding of the supply chain and its vulnerabilities is needed – including looking beyond the UK to identify practices in other countries that could affect UK consumers, as was the case with the consumption of horsemeat.
Setting up a food crime unit
Elliott has also made some important recommendations about much better co-ordination, including improving how the FSA and local authorities work. New research published by Which? this week looking at how local authorities are fulfilling their enforcement obligations has shown a very patchy picture with differing levels of protection depending on which part of the country you live in. FSA data collected from local authorities for 2012/13 shows that standards work has suffered, with testing for food labelling and presentation dropping by 16.2% and food standards interventions by 16.8% on the previous year. While some local authorities are performing well, others are even struggling to ensure compliance with hygiene standards in their area.
This research reinforces the need to take a more fundamental look at how enforcement is delivered. Elliott has suggested that the FSA needs to lead a new food crime unit. However, there is also a need to identify best practice in sharing of resources and expertise around the country in order to ensure there is a system in place that can deal with the risks posed by the diverse range of local food businesses as well as the complexity of the global supply chain.
This article first appeared in The Grocer on Saturday 18 January 2014.