News item

Horsemeat scandal could be the tip of the iceberg

Horse meat and pig meat found in burgers labelled as beef could be just the tip of the iceberg regarding food fraud and illustrates the need for a strengthened front line to help combat it.

The Trading Standards Institute says that better resources are needed to effectively target food fraud.
This major incident, affecting a number of high street food stores, of contamination of food, highlights that more interventions are needed to not only spot such contraventions but dissuade producers from breaking the law.

TSI lead officer food David Pickering said: “With food fraud being so high profile, this latest incident highlights the need for Trading Standards officers to be given better resources to effectively target this area. Trading Standards services are constantly adapting to be as effective as possible but cuts in sampling budgets and officers make it difficult to maintain targeted surveillance of the food sector.

“The Government should acknowledge the costs involved for business, both in terms of product recalls and loss of consumer confidence, when this type of incident occurs and recognise that investment in effective regulation can help the market be more efficient.

“Consumers have a right to expect that the food they eat is what it says on the label. They must have the confidence that the food they buy is correctly labelled, legal and safe.”

Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI, said: “Consumers expect competent regulators to protect them from exactly this sort of scandal. The Prime Minister has expressed his shock and rightly so, but cuts to services are going to impact on our ability to inspect and control.  We don't expect special treatment but government agencies like the FSA must recognise the impact of cuts, and act to support local services in delivering effectively resourced inspections and intelligence led enforcement against fraud. The National Trading Standards Board, established last year, was set up by Government's Business Department to support national and regional work. This case suggests that now is the time to review and assess the funding that is made available to it by those other parts of Government dependent on trading standards capability and for the core and vital frontline work of local trading standards services.”
Mr Gainsford added that the role of trading standards operating as Primary and Home Authority support for businesses of all sizes, especially those in multi retail activity, is equally essential in securing compliance, and helping business and consumer confidence and trust in their product and service supply. Trading standards and good business have to operate in an informed and transparent partnership which supports the integrity and success of the business and also engenders consumer footfall.

The issue of horsemeat in beefburgers was discussed in the House of Commons yesterday (Thursday 17 January 2012) when Mary Creagh MP, Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, asked an ‘urgent question’ of DEFRA Minister of State David Heath MP concerning the discovery of horsemeat in beefburgers in supermarket meat products.

David Heath said that there are strict rules requiring products to be labelled correctly.

The Government policy responsibility for securing safe food for consumers rests with the Food Standards Agency, but frontline responsibility is exercised by trading standards in local authorities together with their environmental health colleagues.

18 January 2013