Food standards chiefs have launched a whistleblower hotline in a bid to root out crime, which is thought to be costing the country up to £2 billion a year.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) created the dedicated phone number after carrying out detailed research into illegal behaviour in the industry. It opened a probe earlier this year into potential food fraud while a media investigation uncovered separate allegations of rotten meat being sold to retailers.
It has now published a series of reports showing the massive cost of criminal behaviour in the sector, with the hotline introduced as a means of tackling it.
Chief executive Emily Miles said: “Strong and clear whistleblowing arrangements are an important part of the protections against food fraud. “All members of The Food Fraud Working Group have agreed to help support this new hotline within the food industry in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
David Lishman, founder of Yorkshire butcher’s Lishman’s said it was “disheartening” to spend time sourcing high quality local meat only to be undercut by companies blurring the truth about their products’ provenance. “It drags prices down and affects the farming world,” he said.
“Big multiple retailers want the cheapest prices and unscrupulous operators will take the easy option. Suppliers are so tied down on price some will buy the cheapest thing available.” Lishman urged fine food retailers to have faith in their own processes. “The integrity of indies is trusted over and above the supermarkets,” he said.
“We have to stick to our guns.” Paul Hargreaves, CEO of wholesaler Cotswold Fayre, said interest in speciality food had grown in recent years. “Supermarkets are all trying to look like they sell farm-made products now,” he said.
“You can have two items, one genuinely artisan and the other 40% cheaper yet it can be hard for consumers to tell them apart. Anything to create more transparency on supply chains and ingredients through onpack display would be very helpful.”
Hargreaves questioned how useful the whistleblower hotline would be, suggesting it could create a forum for unscrupulous individuals to “stitch up their competitors” Lishman added: “We welcome any move to tackle food fraud, but this is likely to create issues with disgruntled employees.”
This article first appeared in the December 2023 edition of Fine Food Digest.