Criminals who sell counterfeit food by replacing one ingredient with another must be bought to justice, an MP has warned.
North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon urged Ministers to act after a review of Britain’s food industry warned that consumers remain at risk from criminals, a year on from the horsemeat scandal.
That was the conclusion of Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety at Queen’s University, Belfast, who held an inquiry into the UK food system for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
In his interim report, he warned that criminals saw food as an increasingly attractive area because it offered the potential for “huge profits” while the risk of detection was low.
A Freedom of Information Request from The Journal found that local authorities in the North East submitted nine reports of food fraud in 2012.
Cases of food fraud are recorded on a database managed by the Food Standards Agency. Newcastle reported three cases, Durham two, Hartlepool two and Stockton two.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mrs Glindon asked the Environment Secretary: “Given the emphasis on criminality in the food chain in the Elliott review, what are the Government doing to ensure that unscrupulous people who deliberately defraud the public will be brought to justice?”
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told her: “This is an interim report which Professor Elliott plans to discuss further with interested parties in the coming months. The Government are interested in hearing the views of others, as we consider all of Professor Elliott’s interim recommendations, before responding to his final report in the spring.”
He added that investigations into food-related crimes were continuing across the UK.
A number of beef products including frozen lasagne were withdrawn from sale in the UK and Europe last year after they were found to have traces of horsemeat in them. And figures this week suggest that consumer confidence in the food chain has been hit, with shoppers buying less read meat.
Sales of beef were down nearly 3% in the year to 8 December, according to the figures from industry analyst Kantar, with sales of frozen burgers falling by 7.2% and frozen ready meal sales falling by 7.6%. A survey by Ipsos MORI found that 10% of adults say they are now eating less processed meat as a result of the scandal.