It’s a year since the horsemeat scandal broke. In our latest research, half of consumers say they have changed their shopping habits. A third (32%) are buying less meat and a quarter (25%) told us they are buying less processed meat. The Elliott Review’s interim report in December 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 of zero tolerance, lessons learnt following the BSE crisis but 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 be so low and a systematic approach to tackling food crime at all levels.
“We need a closer link between enforcement and policy”
Crucial to ensuring consumers are much better protected is the role of the FSA. There has been a consensus across the inquiries that moving food labelling and standards policy out of the FSA and into Defra was short-sighted. This now needs to be reversed so there is a much closer link between enforcement and policy. We want food standards issues to be dealt with by the FSA, which has an unambiguous remit to put consumers first.
The scandal also taught us crucial lessons about the importance of anticipating risks to the food supply chain. Among Elliott’s recommendations 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.
Elliott also made some important recommendations about 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 reveals 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 falling 16.2% and food standards interventions 16.8%. Some local authorities are even struggling to ensure compliance with hygiene standards.
This research reinforces the need to take a more fundamental look at how enforcement is delivered. Elliott suggested the FSA needs to lead a new food crime unit, but there is also a need to identify best practice in sharing of resources and expertise to ensure there is a system in place that can deal with the risks posed by the diverse range of local businesses as well as the complexity of the global supply chain.
Sue Davies is chief policy adviser at Which?