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Food inspection cuts could put lives at risk

CorporatePortal

The expert leading the independent review into last year’s horse meat scandal has warned that cuts to food testing and inspection could put lives at risk. Professor Chris Elliott’s warning comes as Channel 4 Dispatches reveals that the number of Trading Standards Officers is likely to face serious cuts this year. (Food: What’s Really in your Trolley? Channel 4 Dispatches, 8pm Monday March 17th)

The programme reveals that anticipated cuts of 40 per cent to the Trading Standards Service in the UK could lead to a reduction from 3000 officers in 2009 to around 1900 in 2015. The number of public analyst laboratories, where food is tested, has already reduced from 15 to 11 in the last three years.

Speaking exclusively to Channel 4 Dispatches, Professor Elliott, who heads the Institute for Global Food Security in Belfast and is leading the independent review into last year’s scandal says:

“What we have to be careful of is that the budget cutting gets to a point where the integrity of our supply chains, the safety of the food that people eat, gets compromised to such a point that people start to die. I certainly hope that it doesn’t happen and all the indications are at the minute that the food industry is stepping up to the mark. They’re doing more checking and testing; but the food industry can’t do it on their own. What we need are strong regulators and well-resourced regulators.”

In response to a question from Channel 4 Dispatches reporter Morland Sanders, as to whether he shares Professor Elliott’s concerns about cuts to trading standards officers and public health laboratories, Andrew Rhodes, Chief Operating Officer at the Food Standards Agency tells the progamme:

He is right to be concerned about the level of trading standards officers keeping food safe. There has been a reduction in the number of officers. There has been a reduction in the amount of sampling. However a very strong network does exist. It’s increasingly risk-based, it is being helped by better intelligence and that will be one of the keys to unlocking some of the issues that we face."

Andy Foster, from the Trading Standards Institute, tells Channel 4 Dispatches:

You take money out of sampling, you take money out of inspection, you take money out of the consumer protection system. You will get increased levels of fraudulent activity and you make the consumer protection regime that’s designed to deal with it much more impotent – and that’s a big concern. When you have some authorities – like some in London – operating on one trading standards officer, how on earth can they possibly deal with all their demands, from fraudulent activity?”

In a statement, Defra, which was responsible for setting up the independent review, told Channel 4 Dispatches:

“Professor Elliott’s interim review recognises that UK consumers have access to some of the safest food in the world we want to keep it that way. In the last year, we have taken action to prevent food crime, including increasing unannounced inspections of meat cutting plants and boosting funding to £2 million to support local authorities’ food sampling programme.”

Channel 4 Dispatches also reveals that meat from a controversial Dutch company was bought by four UK catering companies. Van Hattem Vlees, the Dutch company which says it supplied the British market as recently as December 2013, has been accused of failing to properly label meat which mixed horse with beef, and failing to ensure its traceability.

Andrew Rhodes, of the Food Standards Agency in London tells Channel 4 Dispatches: “All of the meat that has been sent from this company has been traced, It has gone to four companies which have all been contacted, who identified the onward route of all of the meat involved and that meat has either been detained or given that some of it was shipped quite a long time ago, has been consumed. However there are no safety concerns at all in relation to this meat and this was to do with traceability and paperwork issues which are not acceptable but they are not dangerous.”

Van Hattem Vlees was raided in December 2013 by Dutch authorities who ordered a recall of 28,000 tonnes of meat sold by the company between January 2012 and January 2014. The director of Van Hattem Vlees tells Channel 4 Dispatches that the company produced beef mixed with horse and said they supplied products to the UK until December 2013, although he refused to name the UK clients. He says it was properly labelled.

In response, The British Retail Consortium told Channel 4 Dispatches that none of the top supermarkets had bought meat from Van Hattem Vlees. The UK Food Standards Authority said they were awaiting the outcome of tests.

.../ends

Notes to editors:

  • Any use of the material from this press release, or the programme, should credit: Food: What’s Really in your Trolley? Channel 4 Dispatches, 8pm Monday March 17th

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