With new food scandals hitting the national headlines, Alex Black looks into the potential impact across the supply chain.
Businesses and farmers abiding by the rules were the ones who were hit hardest by food scandals, as consumers lost trust in the supply chain.
With meat suppliers hitting the headlines following the collapse of Russell Hume after the Food Standards Authority (FSA) investigated allegations of non-compliance with food hygiene regulations, National Beef Association chief executive Chris Mallon said it was putting those businesses which ’did it properly’ at a disadvantage.
“When they do get found out, they destroy everybody’s reputation,” he said.
He added it did not matter the size and scale of the breach if it destroyed the public’s trust in the supply chain.
“If they do not have trust there are plenty of other foods for them to choose.”
And Mr Mallon said every scandal was a big blow to farmers who were regulated so heavily to ensure their product met high standards.
“They get penalised for a problem with an ear tag. It is just disappointing.”
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of food and farming alliance Sustain, said if the allegations were correct it was a serious breach of consumer trust and potentially food safety.
“We are told by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that no-one has got sick as a result of such practices, but if this has been going on for years, it is hard to know on what basis they feel so confident.
“We may have been unknowingly exposed to increased risk for far too long.”
Mr Mallon said there needed to be high penalties for anyone found breaching the rules and the infrastructure in place to catch them.
“When people get away with it a little, then they try and get away with more.”
While previous scandals such as the horsemeat scandal have focused on problems at major retailers, Mr Mallon suggested catering had often remained out of the limelight.
“We are always hammering the supermarkets. Catering often slips through.”
Supplier Russell Hume entered administration this week after production was halted due to an FSA investigation. The company had six production sites across England and Scotland and supplied meat to the catering trade, including the Wetherspoons pub chain. 266 staff were made redundant.
Joint administrator Chris Pole of KPMG, said the product recall and halt in operations caused ‘significant customer attrition and trading difficulties’ and it was now seeking buyers for the business and its assets.
A whistleblower has also spoken with ITN News alleging Russell Hume had mislabelled imported beef as British.
Ms Dalmeny said if the report was true, it showed an ‘unacceptable disregard’ for people’s food values, support for British farming and food integrity.
“Consumers put their faith in local farmers and are prepared to pay more for meat from British farms, which is why there is a premium on meat labelled as British.”
She added it may also mask other problems in the supply chain.
Mr Mallon said it was particularly important to ensure products were properly labelled if the UK was to open its borders to imports from countries in South America.
“If they are coming in and being labelled as British then we do not stand a chance.”
But he added, with Brexit on the horizon, the recent scandals could have come at a good time, reminding the Government why it was so important to enforce standards.
“Maybe this is what we needed.”