So a new food scandal hits our shores once again. This time the culprit appears to be a company selling disinfectants laced with an illegal insecticide to a large number of poultry farmers in Holland and Belgium. Unknown to these farmers this insecticide (fipronil) contaminated many millions of eggs over what appears to be a considerable period. The scandal, as scandals often do, started off in one country but quickly impacted countries across Europe and further afield.
In the UK limited amounts of information seemed to make their way to the FSA, and it’s tried its best to manage the situation. However, as more evidence of contaminated produce became known, the food withdrawals linked to criminal activity in the food supply chains once again struck. Memories of the Sudan 1 dye and horsemeat crises must have come flooding back to the food industry, which again had to handle massive issues that were not its fault. In addition, the FSA trying to explain why there is no food safety risk at all but still insisting all products containing the chemically laced egg were withdrawn was deeply uncomfortable, not least to the FSA.
It has to be remembered more than any other fact that those to blame for such scandals are criminals, but surely there must be some lessons to learn. For those who purchased the imported egg products, why were they not buying local? The only rational explanation is price, so consumers must be willing to pay a little more for home grown, and retail and foodservice must support this.
As our food imports keep increasing and the likelihood of further scandals increases, tracking what products particular food ingredients went into can take days, if not weeks, to determine. I read in The Grocer last week that many consumers will buy more British eggs. Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t see many pledges from the UK food industry to do the same. We can produce high-quality eggs and many more food products and ingredients. To determine where the next scandal will come from is a guessing game, but my guess is it will be in food we bring into the country and not made (and grown) in Britain.
Chris Elliott is director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast