Will processors be good eggs? That’s the question we posed back in April, when we investigated egg sourcing standards in food manufacturing in the wake of Brexit. This week’s events around the fast-escalating fipronil scandal prove that question is more pressing than ever.
The UK’s self-sufficiency levels on eggs are better than for most other proteins (about 85% of eggs consumed in this country are laid here), but that still leaves more than two billion imported eggs - a sobering thought for anyone hoping the UK’s exposure to this European mess will top out at 700,000.
The potential implications for the egg sector - thriving, once more, after years of scares and erroneous health messages undermined sales - are huge, even if (as the FSA assures us) there is no risk to public health. No wonder British egg processors are apoplectic and calling on retailers and manufacturers to ditch their ‘double standards’ on egg sourcing.
They are right. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to be 100% British on all foods at all times, but for commodities that are consumed in vast quantities and that go into a huge range of products there is every incentive to do better than we are doing at the moment. Short supply chains aren’t a ‘nice to have’ for well-heeled demographics willing to pay a premium; they are a crucial common sense measure needed to protect our national food security - something politicians need to remember as they dangle food deals in front of post-Brexit trade partners.
The concerns from the fipronil scandal don’t end there. Once again, cross-border communication between regulators is under scrutiny (one expert described the information flow from the Continent as “shambolic”), as is communication with shoppers.
Food safety experts have long called for clearer guidance around how risk is communicated to the public - how much information is made available when, under what circumstances, and underpinned by what risk assessments. But feedback suggests we still fall a long way short on this. “It seems we haven’t learned any lessons from Horsegate or Sudan I,” one expert I spoke to this week put it. What a mess.