‘On the government front, there’s now the cross-government working group on food integrity and food crime chaired by George Eustice. I’m told this is very much helping to bring together the various elements of the public service that was sadly lacking prior to horse-gate.
‘The National Food Crime Unit is now also operational and lead by a well-respected former senior police officer. Questions are already being asked about what they are up to and if they are being effective in finding and deterring criminal activity in our food system. From my perspective it’s of the utmost important that they are given time and resource to develop an operational capacity and not have to go for a quick win to show their worth.’
Not out of the woods
He also warns that we’re not out of the woods yet:
‘I finish with a strong note of caution. If you look at the articles Which? has published about food fraud happening in the UK since the scandal and realise that fraud in food supplies is perpetrated by criminal gangs globally then, it’s clear we have still a major challenge ahead.
‘Without the necessary level of vigilance, without the necessary level of resourcing, without a continued change in the culture of the UK food industry and our government’s reaffirmation that they will protect our citizens from food criminals it may happen again. And if it does, our luck may run out.’
We published the results of our investigation in April 2014, having tested 60 lamb takeaways from a selection of Birmingham and London restaurants. We found 40% of the takeaways were contaminated with other meats such as beef and chicken.
Our executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:
'Nearly a year since our investigation found evidence of food fraud in lamb takeaways, it’s shocking to find that one in five samples tested were still contaminated with other meats.
'We want the Government, local authorities and the FSA to take tougher action to crack down on food fraud offenders and ensure the recommendations from the Elliott review are implemented.'
We investigated suspicions about continued supply of goats cheese despite a shortage of goats' milk, and found 9 out of 76 samples contained sheep's cheese.
We joined forces with with the author of the government's independent review into food crime, Professor Elliott, to test 76 samples of goats' cheese from supermarkets, delis and markets from eight locations around the UK.
In total, nine samples were adulterated: three contained more than 80% sheep's cheese, another three contained more than 50% sheep's cheese, and the final three around 5% sheep's cheese.
These results are not an isolated incident and reinforce the need for better checks so that people get what they pay for and can trust the food they buy.
Goats cheese tests
Professor Chris Elliott, who tested the cheeses himself, said:
'We tested the cheese samples for a wide range of different animal species. I had actually expected to detect some adulteration with cow's protein but what we found was substantial amounts of sheep protein in six cases.'
Our executive director, Richard Lloyd said:
'These results reinforce the need to strengthen checks to ensure people are really getting what they are paying for.'
We will be following up on our findings with the companies and Food Standards Agency.
Our latest round of food testing has revealed around one in six of the fish samples we bought from chip shops were not what we'd ordered.
We tested 45 samples of fish labelled cod or haddock bought from random fish and chip shops in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. We found around one in six (16%) were mislabelled, with some of the samples being substituted for cheaper fish.
In Glasgow, five of the 15 samples of haddock tested were found to be whiting, which is similar to haddock but usually cheaper. Two of the 15 samples of cod tested in Manchester were found to be haddock.
Whiting for haddock
Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, said:
'It has been known for quite some time fish fraud is very common and species substitution is always high on the list of causes.'
He said the UK's catering industry must: 'work to ensure that such fraud is prevented by tightening their audits and testing regime, two of the key pillars of food integrity I referred to in my report to government.'
Implement the Elliott Review
Our executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:
'It's unacceptable that people are being misled and that the food they have ordered is not what they're told it is.'
We want the Government to quickly implement all of the recommendations from the Elliott Review including setting up a new food crime unit within the Food Standards Agency, ensuring a more co-ordinated approach to food testing and industry checks are improved.
The recommendations in the Elliott report into food fraud have been accepted by the government today, including the establishment of a new Food Crime Unit.
Professor Chris Elliott was commissioned to examine how we could prevent food fraud incidents from happening again following the horsemeat scandal last year. He produced an interim report on his findings in February 2014 and his findings have now been accepted by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).
The Government is committing to:
- setting up a new Food Crime Unit
- ensuring there is a resilient network of food analytical laboratories to test food consistently
- and improving coordination across government to protect food integrity and tackle food crime.
Our executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:
'It is only right the Government has accepted the Elliott Review findings and recognised that consumers must be put first if we are to restore trust in the food industry following the horsemeat scandal.'
He added: 'It's in the interests of responsible food businesses, as well as consumers, to make sure there are effective controls in place and a zero tolerance approach to food crime. We now want the Government to quickly implement all of the recommendations so consumers can be confident in the food they buy.'
Crack down on food fraudsters
Environment secretary, Elizabeth Truss, said:
'We’re taking action to make sure that families can have absolute confidence in the food that they buy. When a shopper picks something up from a supermarket shelf it should be exactly what it says on the label, and we'll crack down on food fraudsters trying to con British consumers.'
The government has also committed to improving labelling, including new country of origin labelling introduced from April 2015.
In response to our campaign, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has pledged to deliver additional 'priority testing' of lamb dishes from takeaway restaurants across the UK.
In the proposed programme, local authorities will test 300 samples from takeaways and report their findings to the FSA.
Takeaways found guilty of deliberately mislabelling food could face fines of up to £5,000.
The FSA has promised to continue testing lamb dishes once this initial programme finished.
Andrew Rhodes, Chief Operating Officer at the FSA, said:
'Substitution of lamb for cheaper meats in takeaway food, as seen in our own data and the survey released today by Which?, is unacceptable and we are working closely with local authorities to ensure robust action is taken against any businesses misleading their customers.
'Prosecutions have taken place against business owners for mislabelling lamb dishes, but the recurring nature of the problem shows there needs to be a renewed effort to tackle this problem. Clearly the message isn’t getting through to some businesses.'
Our most recent Which? investigation found 40% of lamb takeaways had been contaminated with other meats, with some containing no lamb at all.
Which? tests takeaways
A year on from the horsemeat scandal, we tested 60 takeaway lamb curries and minced kebabs from restaurants in Birmingham and London and found that 24 of them had been mixed with other meats, such as beef and chicken. Worryingly, seven of the samples contained no lamb at all.
The meat in five of the samples could not be identified, with the most likely explanation for this being the meat had been overcooked or re-cooked.
In Birmingham, 16 of the 30 samples contained other meat. Five of the samples contained no lamb at all.
In comparison, eight of the 30 samples in London were mixed with other meat. Two of the minced lamb kebabs contained just beef.
Read more about our investigation here.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:
'Our research uncovers shocking evidence of food fraud. The Government, local authorities and the FSA need to make tackling food fraud a priority and take tougher action to crack down on the offenders. This is vital to restoring trust in the industry, which is not only good for consumers but good for businesses too.'
That's why today we've launched our Stop Food Fraud campaign - we need your help to ensure action is taken so you can trust that the food you buy is what it says it is.
Which? welcomes the publication of the Elliott Review Interim Report and broadly supports its emphasis and recommendations.
We agree that a systems approach is needed, along with a culture change across the food industry so that the vulnerabilities of food supply chains are better understood, checks and controls enhanced and consumers better protected from food fraud as well as food safety risks.
Professor Chris Elliott has provided evidence to The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee about his interim review of the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks, which was published in December 2013.
The review considers the issues which affect consumer confidence in the authenticity of food products.
Professor Pat Troop and Gary Copson, both experts to the review, also gave evidence.
We used data collected by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to compare local authorities in the UK on the service they provide to ensure the food we eat is safe.
We identified the 10 best and worst local authorities for food hygiene and safety. Our findings were based on the number of premises in an area ranked as high or medium risk which are broadly compliant with food hygiene ratings, how many were yet to receive a rating and the percentage of follow ups that had been carried out by local authority inspectors when poor standards had been uncovered.
Best 10 local authorities in the UK:
Cherwell, Brentwood, Basingstoke & Dean, Eden, Pendle, Ballymena, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, High Peak and Maldon.
Worst 10 local authorities in the UK:
Bexley, Ealing, Medway, West Dunbartonshire, Wycombe, Harrow, Richmond upon Thames, Southwark, Moyle and Enfield.