Which? wants government action to address a decline of consumer trust in the food industry.
Consumer trust in the food industry has dropped by a quarter (24%) since the horsemeat scandal broke, a Which? survey has revealed. 30% of shoppers are now buying less processed meat and a quarter (24%) are buying fewer ready meals with meat in, or choosing vegetarian options.
Two thirds of people (68%) don’t think the government has been giving enough attention to enforcing labelling laws, with half of consumers (47%) not confident that ingredient information is accurate.
Confidence in food safety has also taken a hit. Before the scandal broke, nine in 10 felt confident when buying products in the supermarket. This has dropped to seven in 10.
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Action needed from the government
Which? wants the government to take five urgent steps:
- More surveillance that’s better coordinated: With food fraud surveillance work suffering from cuts in the UK, we need more intelligence-led and speculative surveillance where there’s a potential for cheaper ingredients to be substituted. The government must set out how the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will improve coordination with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and local authorities.
- Tougher enforcement: There needs to be clear disincentives for illegal practices, with tough penalties for those prosecuted. The government should immediately scrap its proposals to decriminalise failure to comply with food labelling legislation (apart from allergen labelling).
- Tighter legislation: The food industry needs to improve traceability and regularly test its products. The government should extend the FSA’s powers to require testing when necessary, publish testing results, and allow FSA officers access to premises for the purpose of investigations.
- Improved food labelling: Consumers should know what’s in their food and where it’s from. The government should push for the EU-wide country-of-origin labelling to cover processed meat used in meat products, such as ready meals. It should also scrap its plans to drop national rules requiring clear ingredient labels for meat sold loose, such as in a delicatessen.
- Return food labelling policy to the FSA: The FSA deals with enforcement, but in England responsibility for all food standards and labelling issues has moved to Defra. The scandal shows this split causes unnecessary confusion and complication. The government should now move responsibility for labelling and standards responsibilities back to the FSA.
Horsemeat: lessons to be learned
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:
‘The horsemeat scandal exposed the need for urgent changes to the way food fraud is detected and standards are enforced. These serious failings must be put right if consumers are to feel fully confident in the food they are buying.
‘Ministers must ensure that everyone involved, including their own departments, the FSA, the food industry and local authorities, are crystal clear about their responsibility to protect consumers and are properly equipped to do so.’