CTSI shares food scandal concerns
CTSI shares NFU chief’s concerns about potential for ‘disastrous’ food scandal.
The UK is vulnerable to illegal food imports due to inadequate controls and resourcing, says Trading Standards body,
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) shares the concerns of National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters that the UK is at risk of a food scandal as a result of diminished resources for ensuring the safety of the food supply chain.
Ahead of the NFU’s annual conference this week, Batters warned that lax border controls on agricultural imports introduced after Brexit could result in a crisis reminiscent of the horse-meat scandal a decade ago. She cited the erosion of food import controls as a key concern, as well as growing fears about African Swine Fever and Avian Influenza.
Trading Standards played a pivotal role in tackling the horse meat crisis when it emerged in 2013. Since then, funding and staffing levels have declined significantly.
Despite being under severe budgetary pressures, with a 50% cut in funding in many areas, local Trading Standards services are responsible for enforcing compliance with food standards, investigating and tracing illegal or unsafe food imports, and for sounding the alarm about potential risks in the food supply chain.
That is in addition to enforcing hundreds of other pieces of legislation, including responsibilities for animal health and welfare on farms, and the identification and control of notifiable disease outbreaks among livestock.
The illegal food trade in the UK alone is estimated to be worth at least £700m, and there are increasing concerns that criminals are exploiting vulnerabilities in the system.
- Suffolk Trading Standards intercepted a van full of suspected illegally imported meat and eggs from Romania during multi-agency spot-checks in Lowestoft in early February
- In October port officials at Dover discovered maggot-infested meat during checks on lorries from Eastern Europe – of 22 vehicles inspected, illegal meat was found in 21 of them.
“There’s a real risk 10 years on [from the horse meat scandal] that we forget those lessons of the past, and there’s nothing that will bring this country to a standstill quicker than a food scare. That would be disastrous, and we want to do everything possible to avoid that,” Batters told the Guardian.
The UK was scheduled to introduce new post-Brexit border checks on fresh food in July last year. These have now been delayed until ‘the end of 2023’. The Government’s Retained EU Law Bill, under which a swathe of regulations – including food safety provisions – are due to be redrafted or sunsetted by the end of 2023, is causing additional uncertainty for Trading Standards and businesses, and CTSI has called repeatedly for the Bill to be postponed.
CTSI Lead Officer for Animal Health and Welfare, Steph Young, said: “I agree with the concerns Minette Batters raises. Even before the UK’s departure from the EU, regulatory services were being cut back to the bone following years of austerity. The risk to the UK and the threat from illegal imports has not happened overnight – it has arisen from a lack of investment over the years in port health authorities and regulatory services.
“In the past 25 years there has been a significant amount of change to animal health and food laws, mostly EU-driven, put in place to protect public health, animal health and the economy. The legislation just gets added to the statute book, often via existing Acts of Parliament, and as a result, little consideration is given to the additional resource required to effectively enforce the rules.”
Chief Executive of CTSI, John Herriman, said: “It is so important that the food we eat is safe, that we know what is in it and we know where it comes from. Trading Standards teams across the UK work hard every day to make that happen, but we are fighting an uphill battle against organised criminals bringing illegal and potentially unsafe food products into the country while we contend with cuts to enforcement budgets and declining staffing levels.
“Confidence in the food supply chain underpins huge parts of the UK economy, as well as being vital to public health. It is not something that should be neglected or taken for granted.”
Notes to Editors
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is a national not for profit established in 1881 which supports the UK’s trading standards profession, and works to protect consumers and safeguard honest businesses. CTSI's members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services at local authorities and in businesses.