Recent announcements of further testing of beef and lamb products for contamination from the Food Standards Agency (the FSA) highlight the need for businesses to continue to review their supply chain arrangements a year after the horse meat scandal.

The FSA has announced that a second round of 150 samples of beef products will be collected and tested for horse meat contamination. Testing is also set to begin on 300 samples of lamb takeaway dishes in response to concerns that businesses are continuing to substitute lamb for cheaper meats.

Horse meat testing – it’s not over yet

The beef products that will be tested include frozen, chilled, cooked and canned foodstuffs from a range of non-branded, branded and ownlabel products.

The testing is funded by the FSA but will be undertaken by local authorities across the UK who will take samples of beef products from a variety of retail outlets, wholesale catering suppliers and cold stores.

The testing is not in response to new intelligence regarding food fraud but part of the EU’s on-going work to ensure that horse meat is not being fraudulently added to beef products. The aim is to find out whether beef products are still being adulterated with horse meat after the first round of testing in 2013 revealed that approximately 4.6% of products labelled as beef across the EU contained horse meat.

The deadline for reporting any samples testing positive for above 1% of horse DNA to the European Commission is 22 July 2014.

Lamb meat scandal?

A review by the FSA found that 43 out of 145 samples of lamb takeaway dishes tested by local authorities last year contained other meats, such as chicken, beef and turkey. More worryingly, 25 of these samples contained no lamb at all – just beef.

A separate survey of lamb dishes undertaken by the consumer organisation Which? has echoed these concerns. The organisation found that 24 out of 60 lamb takeaways (curries and minced lamb kebabs) sampled from restaurants in London and Birmingham were contaminated with beef and chicken.

Prosecutions have been brought against businesses found to be mislabelling food but the FSA has asked for a further 300 samples to be tested following concerns that some businesses have not got the message that it is unacceptable to mislead consumers by substituting lamb. Businesses are liable to fines of up to £5,000 if found guilty of mislabelling food.

Commentary

The FSA has stated that this latest round of horse meat testing should “…give additional reassurance to consumers across Europe that the food chain is being checked for potential problems”.

However, whilst it is reassuring to know that action is being taken, there is still much work to be done to combat food fraud as demonstrated by the latest announcement regarding contaminated lamb products. This concern was also highlighted by the interim report of the Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks, commissioned by Defra.

Professor Elliott was asked to undertake an independent review of Britain’s food system to ensure that consumers can be confident in the authenticity of the food that they are buying. In his interim report, Professor Elliott identified a worrying lack of intelligence in relation to food fraud in the UK which means that we do not know the extent to which criminal activity has infiltrated the food industry. The interim report also made 48 recommendations aimed at making it more difficult for criminals to operate in food networks by introducing new measures to check, test and investigate suspicious activity.

Professor Elliott’s final report is due to be issued in spring 2014 following a period of consultation. We will provide a further update once the final report has been published as the recommendations, if implemented, are likely to have a substantial impact upon businesses.

In the meantime, businesses should remain vigilant and continue reviewing their relationships with suppliers to establish whether there are any issues with the supply chain. It should always be borne in mind that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is!