New Which? research has found six in 10 consumers have changed their shopping habits as a result of the horsemeat fiasco.
Consumer trust in the food industry has dropped by a quarter (24%), with 30% now buying less processed meat and a quarter (24%) 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 (50%) not confident ingredient information is accurate. 44% say they now look at ingredient labelling more on food containing meat, with 83% agreeing that country of origin labelling should be required on meat products.
Confidence in food safety has also taken a hit, dropping from nine in 10 feeling confident when buying products in the supermarket before the scandal broke to seven in 10 feeling confident now.
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 once more.
“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.”
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 their 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 its 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, like ready meals. It should also scrap its plans to drop national rules requiring clear ingredient labels for meat sold loose, like 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.
Notes for editors
1. Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed 2,064 UK adults online between 22nd and 24th February 2013. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults.