The Whitehouse Consultancy

By Sam Blainey, Senior Political Consultant

An old sore was reopened this month, as a London businessman was found guilty of conspiring to defraud customers by adding horsemeat to batches of beef and relabelling them as pure beef. The conviction is another reminder that the issue – which first emerged in 2013 – has not gone away, and continues to damage the food and drink sector.

It is rare that food quality and provenance becomes a talking point across the EU, but when it does it’s serious. Food safety scares are one of those things where you only need to lose the trust of some consumers once for there to be a considerable impact; those with longer memories will recall how long it took the British beef industry to recover from the BSE disaster in the mid-90s.

The UK Government, which very much remembers BSE, took the horsemeat issue seriously, even setting up a new ‘quango’ – the National Food Crime Unit – to head off similar problems before they hit the headlines. The conviction that came this month was the result of painstaking co-operation between authorities in different countries and a whole range of different agencies. Despite having limited resources, regulators and enforcement bodies clearly take food fraud seriously.

But they do not do this good work in a vacuum. Trade associations in the food and drink sector naturally want to do everything they can to preserve the reputation of their industry and so protect their members’ sales. They are increasingly doing this by helping regulators tackle problems in their own sector.

This month saw a roundtable meeting organised by the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (for which Whitehouse provides the secretariat) of various food trade associations, regulatory bodies and enforcers to discuss how best to co-operate in ensuring that the consumers are kept safe and not misled about what food and drink can achieve for them.

All at this meeting realised that it was just a start and there was a long way to go before the most persistent rule-breakers in the food and drink industry were finally stopped. But a start has to be made somewhere, and this positive meeting was a great sign not just that trade associations are willing to tackle non-compliance but that Government agencies recognise the value of working together.

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