/ Food & Drink

Would a UK-US trade deal protect food standards?

Woody Johnson has dismissed farming and food production in Europe as a ‘museum of agriculture’ – but is that really the case?

Donald Trump’s man in London is inviting British consumers to replace what he presents as a fixation on ‘history and tradition’ with the farming methods of the future, based on an American preference for ‘science and innovation’.

But the evidence suggests that when it comes to animal welfare laws and food standards it is the US that is stuck in the past and Britain that has a model both countries could adopt and build on as part of a lucrative post-Brexit trading relationship in the future.

If Mr Johnson is to persuade UK families of the benefits of chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-boosted beef and genetically-modified salmon, he will first have to explain why so many Americans are getting sick because of the food they eat.

Foodborne diseases

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around one in six Americans – that’s 48 million people – suffer from foodborne diseases every year.

The equivalent figure in Britain is around one in 60 (one million cases a year according to the Food Standards Agency’s estimate). In the US, 128,000 people are hospitalised and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases.

Mr Johnson defended the infamous process of washing chicken in chlorine – claiming it is a “public safety no-brainer” when it comes to killing potentially lethal bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter.

But in the US, rather than being an effective public safety measure, this is often used as a desperate attempt to make up for rampant food safety problems and can be ineffective – as a recent outbreak of salmonella infantis linked to 129 illnesses and one death demonstrated.

Lessons learned from food safety scares like the BSE crisis and horsemeat scandal mean we have a much more rigorous system in this country, with controls throughout the food supply chain designed to minimise contamination throughout the process, rather than relying on chemical treatments at the end.

Post-Brexit trade between the UK and USA

The US government’s published aims for a post-Brexit trade deal followed intense lobbying from the US agriculture industry, which appears determined that British markets should be opened up to their produce.

When we analysed these submissions, the findings were alarming. US pork producers, for example, said it was ‘critically important’ that their meats should be able to enter the UK duty-free and with none of the human and animal health protection checks currently required by EU and UK law.

The expectation that British regulations should be brought into line with those in the US could not be clearer.

But it must be for people in Britain to determine the safety and standards regime for the food they eat – these vital protections cannot be a bargaining chip, which might be given away to facilitate transatlantic trade in other goods or services.

Tough negotiations

The US trade position should, of course, be taken with a pinch of salt – it is just the opening gambit in what will doubtless be tough negotiations.

But British farmers, food experts and the Environment Secretary have been clear – we should not allow any dilution of food or safety standards, whether for domestic production or imports.

Encouragingly, Downing Street has also repeatedly denied that food standards could be lowered as part of a future trade deal.

UK consumers are remarkably united in agreement on this point – no matter where they are in the country and whether they buy their food from Waitrose or Aldi.

Nine in 10 (90%) people told us it is important that food standards are maintained after Brexit – and when asked specifically about US production methods, they are equally clear.

Eight in 10 (79%) people said they would be uncomfortable drinking milk produced using growth hormones and the same number said they would be uncomfortable eating hormone-treated beef.

Nearly seven in 10 (68%) said they would be uncomfortable eating chlorine-washed chicken and 72 per cent expressed the same concern about meat from cloned animals.

Cheaper food prices – lower standards?

The argument advanced in some quarters that millions of British shoppers would welcome the cheaper food prices a US-UK trade deal could bring did not stand up to scrutiny when we asked consumers for their views.

Seven in 10 people (71%) told us they would not buy food produced to lower standards, even if it was cheaper – and this response was consistent across socio-economic groups.

If British food standards are to change after Brexit, they should only change for the better.

Brexit can be used as an opportunity – to scrap the wasteful Common Agricultural Policy, invest in technology and design a joined-up food and farming policy that ensures food is produced to the highest standards and meets the nation’s health needs.

By all means, we should have an ambitious US-UK trade deal as part of Britain’s outward-looking post-Brexit future – there is no doubt that the potential to provide consumers with greater choice and more competitive prices is huge.

But let’s agree from the outset that our shared goal should be a “race to the top” in standards for British and American consumers – particularly when it comes to the food on our table.

If the mooted transatlantic trade deal cannot achieve that, its fate may be to end up as little more than a footnote in the museum of Brexit.

Comments

I doubt that any UK consumers want to see reduced standards of food hygiene and/or animal welfare.

In her introduction, Caroline wrote: “If Mr Johnson is to persuade UK families of the benefits of chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-boosted beef and genetically-modified salmon, he will first have to explain why so many Americans are getting sick because of the food they eat.”

Once we are no longer part of the EU there is little doubt that there will be pressure to allow chlorine-washed chicken. Here is a non-technical article explaining some of the problems: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/26/chicken-health-fear-chlorine-washing-fails-bacteria-tests-brexit-salmonella-listeria

This may just be a news article but it is based on a peer reviewed paper from Bill Keevil’s group at the University of Southampton. https://mbio.asm.org/content/mbio/9/2/e00540-18.full.pdf

Thanks for both those links. It is nice to see open access to scientific research.

I’m a great supporter of open access, Abby. More and more OA articles are published every year and as well as making access freely available the authors benefit from more people reading their work.

It would be useful to be more specific about food health risks. Simply to say “If Mr Johnson is to persuade UK families of the benefits of chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-boosted beef and genetically-modified salmon, he will first have to explain why so many Americans are getting sick because of the food they eat.” then a link to show that their “sickness” is directly linked to these three issues is required.

Would we be content if imported food labelling was explicit about the conditions that are part of its production? We would need educating of course to make an informed choice. Is, for example, chlorine washing of chicken harmful to people or is it better to reduce the naturally-occurring bacterium campylobacter, that we will likely never eliminate, by “natural” methods? Or should we tolerate the small chance of infection if we don’t cook it properly?

We are not squeaky clean in the UK. We have had BSE through dodgy animal feed, overcrowding in livestock and poultry production, use of antibiotics to compensate for poor husbandry (perhaps).

On the other hand the US uses, on average, 4.9 times the amount of antibiotics that we use saveourantibiotics.org/media/1791/comparison-of-us-and-uk-farm-antibiotic-use.pdf

I’d like to see a proper comparison of food standards that might be affected and the effect they are shown to have on consumers.

All the bacteria that cause food poisoning are naturally occurring, and campylobacter is the most common cause. Those of us who choose to avoid chicken can still suffer because of of cross contamination of cooked food or food that is eaten raw, e.g. salads.

Following the publicity of the campylobacter levels in supermarket chicken, helped by Which?, some improvement was achieved and recently the Co-Op and Morrisons have achieved zero levels of ‘high level’ contamination, though the most recent information from the Food Standards Agency is not so good and all the major retailers (and probably others) and their suppliers could I believe do more to tackle the problem. https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts/news/major-retailers-publish-campylobacter-results

It is very heartening to see how this bacterium has been tackled by the various “interventions” developed by the major retailers and others. The key with poultry is still to store and cook it correctly.

50% of our processed chicken comes from Thailand and Brazil – 170 000 t (2015-6). I wonder how well regulated is the production and the imported product.

I would prefer to promote home grown food and minimise processing – I can do most of that in the kitchen. I accept that there will be malpractice here – there are “rogues” in every walk of life – but I hope that gradually we will restore resources to our regulators and have better control of the UK food industry than we can hope to achieve with overseas producers.

The focus of the problem has been fresh chicken and there is still a major problem to be tackled. It does not help that major companies have been put in charge of looking after food safety under the Regulating our Future initiative. There is no indication that this will change when we are not members of the EU.

Imported frozen chicken may be less of a problem because freezing is more effective in reducing campylobacter than with many (Gram-negative) bacteria, but we certainly do need to pay attention to food safety, irrespective of source.

Kevin says:
20 March 2019

Scientific advice from a member of the Trump administration?

Thanks for letting us know that european food regulations are all based on based on fake science, Woody, once we’ve silenced project food fear, we’ll sharpen our pitchforks for those pesky climate scientists.

I am concerned that the UK has become so dependent on other countries for its food and energy supplies. As mentioned in Caroline’s introduction, there is a strong public interest in food safety. With UK-produced food, we have more chance of checking what is happening in the supply chain.

Perhaps we could use Brexit as an opportunity to focus on buying and creating a demand for home produced food. Assuming that labelling is honest, it’s not too difficult to find food that is produced in the UK and with fruit & veg, to identify local produce.

At the moment we do not know what a UK-US trade deal may bring.

If we collectively ate less food we could get closer to self-sufficiency.

Excellent point.

…..and if we developed a culture of seeing excessive food waste as unacceptable at home, restaurants, supermarkets.

We could ban multi-buy offers on fresh food, which is a common cause of food waste. If the supermarket wants to offer a BOGOF they could simply halve the price. It does not matter for products with a long shelf life.

I don’t see “free” items where I shop. However if people didn’t buy offers no doubt they would disappear. I’m not keen on imposing our personal preferences on other people in this regard; many may make very good use of offers.

The conundrum for shops is keeping sufficient stock to satisfy demand without having too much go out of date and be ditched. Maybe we should look harder at “use buy” dates. I have potatoes in the fridge that last for weeks; presumably the shop throws them away if they have gone past their date on the shelf.

We need to buy what we need and if that involves taking advantage of offers to eke out our budget then that’s fine with me. teaching people to use any food wisely seems the key. Is the higher cost of food going to eventually influence that?

Anyway, I’m off to plant some broad beans while the weather is kind.

We may well have well-founded concerns about the standard of imported food, from the US for example. However, providing the food is labelled with the appropriate information (this chicken has been chlorine washed, this beef has been produced using hormone growth promoters, for example) we as individuals do not have to buy it. However, just as relevant, the major retailers do not have to buy it either if it is not to the standard we, as a country, want, whatever a trade deal might say. No one can force unacceptable food down our throats except by deception.. If the House of Commons restaurants wish to serve it up to MPs, all well and good.

At present this is wishful thinking. Through ignorance, we might assume that all is well in the UK, but have a look at this page from the website you mentioned above: http://saveourantibiotics.org/news/press-release/eu-report-shows-high-levels-of-antibiotic-resistance-in-british-pigs-including-resistance-to-last-resort-human-antibiotic/ Antibiotics should have never been used as growth promoters.

As I said above https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/uk-us-trade-deal-food-standards/#comment-1561798
We are not squeaky clean in the UK. We have had BSE through dodgy animal feed, overcrowding in livestock and poultry production, use of antibiotics to compensate for poor husbandry (perhaps).” I don’t think there is “wishful thinking” or “ignorance” about our food production. Antibiotics have the disadvantage of creating resistant strains, whether used in European or US strengths.

You said: “No one can force unacceptable food down our throats except by deception.” Unfortunately, we are not provided with the information we need to make an informed choice. We could have been told long ago that, for example, antibiotics were used as growth promoters in meat production. To my mind, lack of provision of information is little better than deception.

I’m not sure that the general public understands the risks of using antibiotics in farming or even the risks associated with intensive farming, so it is difficult to expect them to make informed choices. We will soon have the opportunity to introduce changes.

1. Food labelling should include relevant information so that we can make informed choices. If we import chlorine-washed chicken, GM salmon, hormone-treated beef for example it should say so.
2. Where there is deception we should have strong enough regulators to deal with it.
3. I think antibiotic resistance has been well publicised. However we should introduce regulations to ban their use as a mass treatment and as “precautionary” measures.
4. I wonder how the major food retailers will deal with food that does not align with current EU standards? Will they stock these US foods that we say are not acceptable?

I absolutely agree that we should be told, but so far we have not been told much about what goes in our food or about standards of animal husbandry. There are some exceptions such as ‘free range’ eggs (which is a bit far from what we might expect) and organically farmed produce.

As someone who has given lectures on the mode of action of antibiotics and touched on antibiotic resistance, I’m interested in how well the public understands the problem of antibiotic resistance and the contribution of farming practices. Having discussed this with many people I’m fairly confident that it is poorly understood by the public and it is difficult to find information to make an informed choice.

"difficult to find information to make an informed choice."

This is the crux of the problem for me. Most people don't appreciate the hidden, non-monetary cost of food production and I don't blame them. With all the information thrown at people and the way many producers market things it is often hard to see through all of that.

Summary of what IDS said today

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JCsDeUgNbw

Food standards in EU are not that great
USA has lower bacteria infections (higher standards?)
UK won’t have the same food standards as the EU
We will do a trade deal with USA

so it looks like chlorinated chicken will be coming to Britain

he also said no deal WTO won’t really hurt us, and the EU is going to become the sick man of the world

He must have been trying out the latest government issue happy pills.

Wev –You are led to believe that chlorine-washed chicken means higher standards but the reverse is likely be true. Treating chicken with disinfectant (chlorine dioxide or an alternative) will kill bacteria on chicken contaminated with faeces but maybe that’s not the best approach. Bill Keevil at the University of Southampton does not believe that the treatment is effective against some bacteria.

I’ve not found many politicians who are good at understanding microbiology. I’d like to ask IDS some technical questions.

You could try your MP as well, or ask them to raise the matter with the DoH or FSA

Who is your MP?

The matter has been discussed at length and it’s in the hands of the politicians now.

Just because chlorine-washed chicken might be a permitted foodstuff in the future does not mean that retailers have to stock it. Consumer resistance could stop it in its tracks. How chicken from 3-6,000 miles away can arrive here cheaper than home-produced poultry beats me.

One problem, however, is that while the consumer might prefer to buy British chicken for home cooking, the majority of chicken meat is used in ‘manufactured’ food. Just look round the cabinets full of chilled ready meals and see how much is chicken-based. It would be very tempting for food companies to use chicken from the cheapest or most convenient sources to meet this demand so the key will be to look out for good labelling and sensible pricing. Furthermore, there must be ways in which the government can ease the burdens of UK poultry producers without offending the terms of a trade deal which would probably rule out restrictive practices against imports or preferential conditions for home-produced meat.

I wonder what KFC’s or Nando’s policies would be [other chicken-based eateries are available].

How many people choose their ready meals or fast food on the basis of the source of the chicken?

Chlorine-washed chicken has become rather emotive but there are other disinfectants that can be used in chicken processing. The reason we don’t allow chlorine washes at present is thanks to EU legislation, driven mainly by Germany.

I doubt if many people do check the origin of the meat in ready meals. I think the question is emotive not necessarily because of the kind of disinfection process used but because UK farmers are claiming that the chlorine washing process is of a lesser hygiene and safety standard than is permitted in the UK and, by being substantially cheaper to import than poultry treated in the UK to UK standards, will seriously harm British agriculture. It is a reasonable concern that would have further adverse implications for the sustainability of UK farming.

The problem isn’t the chlorine. It’s the toxins from the bacteria that are inside the chicken meat. Washing a chicken with chlorine doesn’t get rid of the toxins already in it

And apparantly with a new trade deal, we won’t be allowed to know where the meat came from. When we walk into a supermarket to buy a chicken , that won’t be on the packaging, and staff won’t be able to tell us where it’s come from

Another thing I’ve heard is that hormone fed beef is carcenogenic because of the hormones. Is it true?

I don’t see why we are getting out of one restrictive market and trying to buy into another through a trade deal. I feel that foodstuffs should be outside trade deals unless they are even-handed and we should be able to specify exactly what we want to import or not.

If we want UK farms to operate with appropriate welfare and health standards, then we should not allow imports produced to lower standards.

Alfa started a discussion about concerns about food standards here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/which-membership/which-discussion/#comment-1599976

This seems to be the most relevant Convo to continue the debate so that it does not just get lost.

One of the points relating to a Transatlantic Trade Agreement that needs to be brought out into the open is whether or not there will be an ‘anti-dumping’ clause. Dumping is where surplus stocks are offloaded onto the market at very low prices with the purpose of undercutting other suppliers so as to gain market share. While we wouldn’t want to protect excessive prices and we prefer a free competitive market, dumping acts against consumers’ general interests by reducing competition ultimately leading to much less choice and eventually higher prices going forward. Without some restraint on anti-competitive practices I could well foresee the trade deal as not just a way of undermining our safe food standards with concomitant risks to human health and animal welfare but also as a way of destroying major parts of UK agriculture.

Beryl was right to point out that chlorine washing of chicken was a cleansing technique to obviate the need for high standards of rearing poultry. Density, hygiene, flooring conditions, bird health, foul waste removal, contamination, operative sanitation and other factors can all be compromised if the industrial slaughtering, preparation and packaging systems include a chlorine wash process.

Alfa raised an interesting point about the quality of chicken and beef in cooked food outlets in America being superior to similar establishments in the UK. I think this needs to be explored further. If we are raising animals for food production to a higher standard of hygiene and welfare, as we claim to be, why are we not maintaining high standards all the way through cooking and serving to produce high quality, and better tasting meals at an affordable price? Perhaps British junk food consumers are less discriminating than the Americans and are prepared to put up with high-priced rubbish when eating out – safe on the farm but spoiled in the kitchen.

I appreciate the importance of looking at trade agreements and businesses practices, but I will stick to food safety and production issues which I can relate to.

I believe you once mentioned you had visited a poultry farm, John. If so, you will have seen the scale of the operation. This combined with the large processing plants have enabled chicken to be produced at a far lower price than fifty years ago, when it was a relatively expensive meat.

The density of chicken farming is such that it promotes infection. During the current coronavirus pandemic we have become acutely aware of the value of keeping away from others to limit infection, but there is not much chance of social distancing if you are a battery chicken and ‘free range’ is still quite intensive.

It is the subsequent transport and processing of carcasses that the main contamination problems seem to occur. The evisceration process means that everything gets covered in excreta containing large numbers of harmful bacteria – even carcasses that were not originally infected. Thorough washing should remove most of this contamination but that takes time. Chlorine washes do reduce the number of bacteria but can also be used to skimp on the cleaning process. Chlorine washing has been the subject of criticism but as I have mentioned before, there are other chemical treatments used for the same purpose, for example peracetic acid.

Your last sentence is a bit judgemental. I’m not disagreeing but many people do enjoy fast food.

I find that the more people know about poultry production the less inclined they seem to be to want to eat chicken and chicken-based meat products.

Battery hens are more usually associated with egg production. For meat products, broiler chickens are reared for slaughter at around six weeks. They are not usually reared in cages but in open areas under cover and on deep litter [usually a straw, sawdust and wood shavings mix several inches deep]. The flock density can vary and in some cases might be excessive; this is rarely revealed but too high a density would increase the amount and rate of infection. As the birds grow bigger the density intensifies so that by the time of slaughter conditions can be problematic to say the least.

The deep litter gets compacted with faeces, feathers, food, bodily fluids, dirt and other waste material. A new layer of litter is added from time to time and this is considered to be a natural and effective means of decomposition of the faeces and other material. There is, of course, a risk of cross contamination of one flock from another if the same litter is left in situ.

Generally the deep litter is only dug out and replaced when it reaches a considerable depth. The reclaimed litter is processed for chicken manure [a soil enricher] but can also be used as a biomass fuel.

It is clearly possible to produce safe chicken for eating as vast volumes are consumed annually without much ill effect relatively, but unlike with other animal products the processing and preparation system starts at a disadvantage as it has to counteract several weeks of inherently unhygienic culture. Economic considerations can lead to both the rearing method [especially flock density] and the cleansing and processing functions being skimped.

I make no apology for being judgmental about eating fast or junk food. It is relatively pricey and not necessarily good for us. I am in no position to approach this issue from a scientific standpoint so my comments are just my personal opinions based on my own observations. Apart from the occasional plate of fish and chips, I do not eat fast food or takeaways and very little pre-prepared food, nor do I eat chicken.

I cannot avoid noticing that many of those who feed on convenience foods are at the lower end of the socio-economic scale so I do not support concerns that price discrimination will occur if we insist on maintaining higher food safety standards. As I see it, many consumers are already paying more than they can afford for food that does them more harm than good. However, people have the right to make their own food choices and, for many, the price will be a major factor; this is an argument in favour of allowing American-produced chlorine-washed chicken into our market as a quid pro quo for reduced-tariff access to American markets for our exports. However, I feel we must ensure people have the knowledge to exercise that judgment in an informed and intelligent way.

We can keep chicken on the British menu, home grown for preference, but I do not believe we should, under duress, lower our production standards which are difficult enough to maintain at the best of times.

I recall you said that you did not eat chicken, John. I rarely bought it because I far preferred other meats but stopped when I learned about the poor standards in the industry. I believe that a great deal could be done to make chicken safer. Although proper cooking of poultry does remove the risk of infection, cross contamination of cooked foods, salads, etc. remains a problem. I nearly lost a friend – a neighbour – due to a complication of food poisoning. It’s not just what happens in our homes but what happens when we eat out, attend functions, etc.

I remain firmly against adopting US standards in this context but I have not looked at the pricing issues. Chlorine-washed chicken, hormones… What next? How far should we sacrifice standards to reduce costs? Has the BSE problem helped us to focus on the science rather than just economics?

I’m keen that Convo is a friendly place and those who do eat fast food might not be too keen on implied criticism. I nearly made a disparaging comment about cheap supermarket lager in another Convo this morning, but realise that many either enjoy it or just drink it.

A campaign to properly police our food producers and a safe communication path for whistleblowers would be useful. It will, of course, cost money to better resource – money and qualified staff – what already exists Do we want to pay for it? I’d suggested it is funded by a levy on all producers and processors and ring fenced. Perhaps now is a good time with a lot more people looking for work.

We could take the same approach with healthcare, trading standards and the like; make them self financing.

My criticism about fast food and junk food is addressed more to the purveyors than to the consumers who, as I have pointed out, are not sufficiently well-informed to exercise good judgment and who are ripe for exploitation by the fast food industry much of which has its origins and ownership on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The best operators no doubt offer wholesome and nutritious food [albeit accessorised with condiments, toppings and flavourings of dubious value] but a lot of late night operators struggle to get and keep a food hygiene rating of one – and that’s even without testing the ingredients.

Small fast food outlets in built-up areas are a major problem. I have no idea why anywhere that is awarded food hygiene rating of zero is not closed there and then. Sometimes they continue to trade for a year or more.

I look at food hygiene when eating out and it’s usually easy to find places with a recent 5 rating. I do not know why successive governments have failed to make it mandatory to show ratings on the doors, as it is in Wales.

I think enough is known about this for many people to be aware of what they buy. Better controls and monitoring of these outlets are needed, application of verified food hygiene ratings should be mandatory and outlets that have serious food hygiene problems should be closed down until they can demonstrate they can perform properly.

When will we have a government that is prepared to require display of ratings and insist that premises stop trading immediately if their standards are very poor? When I have visited Wales, premises have advertised their 5 rating to encourage custom.

A few years ago I learned that one premises had fallen from 4 to a zero rating. I asked on of the locals and it was because the environmental health officers had not been allowed to carry out an inspection for some reason. This was dealt with fairly promptly.

Perhaps local authorities could reuire this. I think they are responsible forpolicing food premises.

Both Scotland and Wales enforce public display of notices. Odd that England don’t.

We have a national problem so it needs to be dealt with nationally as it was in Wales. My understanding is that those who do local inspections is that they are under pressure to be supportive rather than to close businesses. There was a TV documentary about this, showing how three local cases were handled. That’s similar to what I have been told by a staff operating locally.

There is no longer a food hygiene rating app but if you bookmark the website it’s easy to check ratings before eating.

Ian – The system in Scotland is inferior because rather than having six ratings (including 0) the ratings are Pass or Improvement Required, and there are a great many businesses in the latter category. I reckon the Welsh system is best because it encourages businesses to do their best and also they must display their rating.

If display is mandatory in Scotland it must be very recent. When checking I came up with this recent article that says that an organisation called Which? are wanting mandatory display. I cannot remember reading that, but fingers crossed that Which? will push for action rather than just report on another problem: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2020/04/which-renews-mandatory-hygiene-rating-call/

The Food Standards Agency runs the food hygiene ratings in conjunction with local authorities, aI believe. So if this is the case, is there anything to stop responsible local authorities from requiring the mandatory display of ratings? It is their inspectors who have to check and enforce them. While it would be good if the government introduced appropriate legislation I see nothing to stop a pragmatic solution, in the absence of that.

If I knew of a single authority that does this I might have some confidence in this approach. I did discuss this with a member of staff responsible for for inspections and enforcement for a city council. I posted the response on Convo at the time.

Here is a recent document that offers some hope that Which? is tackling the problem: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/04/the-best-and-worst-places-to-eat-in-the-uk/

It indicates that only 87% of premises in Wales display their ratings despite the fact that it has been mandatory for years. That is more evidence that our government needs to face up to the issue, which should have been dealt with years ago.

The trouble is there are many issues the government has to face up to, and local authorities who are strapped for cash. The core problem lies with businesses behaving badly. If consumers avoided those with no displayed, or with poor, ratings then something might change. However if, unlike some of us here, the consumers who use these places just don’t care then under the present economic circumstances I doubt much will change.

I check the food hygiene ratings for food establishments in Norwich on the city council’s website. It is very detailed and includes the latest inspection report. I would say that most get a rating of 3 or more, but those are not the premises that are open between 11:00 pm and 3:00 am on Friday and Saturday nights. I would love to see the scores on all the doors and wish the government would compel this in England, but that won’t change the practical position on the street.

It is not the city council’s policy to bear down too heavily on the BAME community which is heavily involved in the night-time take-away trade so a rating of 1 is the initial objective and much support is given to operators in order to achieve that. Enforcement action is taken against establishments that cannot get a rating of 1 and some are closed down for periods, usually followed by a change of ownership.

Wavechange said “it’s usually easy to find places with a recent 5 rating”. That is true during normal dining hours for sit-down establishments, but in the ‘night economy’ districts in city centres a wholly different kind of operation takes over for when the bars and clubs spill out. This barely meets the demand from the clientele who might not be the most discerning of customers and have to queue and jostle to get some food inside them. Evidence of their stomachs’ reactions to this intake is to be found in numerous locations within a half-mile radius the next morning.

We seem too reticent to bear down on food hygiene. To allow reverse racial discrimination to effectively guide this is not acceptable. As this is a public health issue we should expect better.

I suspect the proprietors of the clubs and bars would be up in arms if the authorities brought about the closure of the fast food outlets that feed their members after lights out.

There are conflicting pressures and absolute enforcement of the food operation would damage the entire ‘night economy’ and drive it underground. The council’s policy is to contain it in one area and, alongside the police, keep it under observation rather than control. Liquor and narcotics supervision are enmeshed with this so they want it where they can see it and the food businesses help make that possible.

John – I had some contact with the nearest city council, which covered where I used to live and they were putting a great deal of effort into the problem of poor standards in fast food outlets but they try to work with the owners and push for improvements. I remember you told us about the information provided by Norwich council. I’ve only seen one other example that was similar.

The piles of diced carrots are likely to be due to the affluence of incohol rather than food poisoning, which takes a little longer to act.

Yes, of course. I shouldn’t have brought that up.

🙂

I imagine it’s in very bad taste. 🙂

I would like to see Which? become a much stronger organisation so that it has real influence on government. That would either require a very lot more Members so it is truly representative of consumers, or making friends with a footballer.