Shopper looks at labelling on tin on shelf

The latest testing as part of Which?’s Stop Food Fraud Campaign has found fish from chip shops being substituted for cheaper varieties. The findings follow on from our previous investigation into lamb takeaways, where we found 40% of the samples had been contaminated with other meats, with some containing no lamb at all. These latest results reinforce the need to implement the consumer first and zero tolerance approach set out in the Elliott Review.

“Seven in 10 people tell us more action is needed to reduce food fraud”

We randomly chose 15 fish & chip shops in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester and ordered fish labelled cod or haddock in each city. This snapshot revealed people are not always getting what they pay for. Five of the 15 haddock samples bought in Glasgow were substituted for the cheaper fish, whiting. Two of the Manchester outlets sold haddock as cod.

It is therefore unsurprising that a new Which? survey has found half (49%) of people don’t have confidence that the food they buy from takeaways is correctly labelled and contains the ingredients stated. It isn’t just takeaways that people are concerned about, as around a third (32%) say they aren’t confident food in general contains exactly what’s stated in the ingredients list. In the wake of Horsegate, over half (55%) are worried that a food fraud incident will happen again.

The government has accepted the findings of the Elliott review and now needs to urgently implement his recommendations to tighten controls across the whole food supply chain and, crucially, help to bring about a culture change where food crime will not be tolerated.

Many people have still to be convinced that this issue is being taken seriously enough. Seven in 10 people we surveyed told us more action needs to be taken to reduce food fraud. Nearly six in 10 (57%) think the government hasn’t been giving enough attention to enforcing food labels. It seems continuing concerns about food fraud are still affecting how some people shop. A quarter say that over the last 12 months they have changed the type of meat they buy because they are worried about food fraud.

The government has committed to create a new food crime unit within the FSA. In line with Elliott’s approach, the analytical capability for food authenticity testing will be reviewed, there will be a focus on enhancing industry audits, and new mechanisms put in place to improve government co-ordination through a group on food crime and integrity and chaired by the food minister.

Our research suggests that if you look for fraud, there’s currently a good chance you will find it. Rooting out misleading practices must become a much greater priority.

Sue Davies is chief policy adviser at Which?