EFRA advocates more targeted food sampling

A more “targeted approach” to food sampling has been recommended in a report published yesterday about the horsemeat scandal.

The report, entitled ‘Food Contamination’ and carried out by the House of Commons’ Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, noted that budget cuts should not have an impact on food sampling carried out by local authorities.

“Local authorities have a duty to carry out appropriate food testing and must ensure that they do so,” it stated, adding, “The government should be mindful of, and keep an eye on, the likely impact of recent local authority budget cuts on food sampling rates.”

Unacceptable to neglect food sampling

EFRA did not recommend a minimum amount of sampling to be carried out by local authorities, but said it was unacceptable to carry out no food sampling in a 12-month period, highlighting three local authorities as an example.

Although the Committee has asked for more testing, it also raised concerns about the “declining number of public analysts and of public laboratories for carrying out food testing”. It said a further fall in such facilities would result in tests being sent abroad. “This is likely to result in increased costs and fewer samples being submitted.” It said the government must keep the situation under review to ensure there were sufficient and properly trained public analysts in the UK.

Intelligent sampling

Meanwhile, the report recommended that local authorities be more intelligent in their sampling approach. It said: “Eighty per cent of food is sold through five supermarkets chains whose food is sourced locally, nationally and internationally. Local authorities must reflect this sourcing pattern in their sampling programme.

“We recommend a more targeted approach to food sampling, focusing on foods that are likely to be adulterated, even when there is no tip-off about it.”

It also said that the ever-increasing complexity of food supply chains should see those in a position of responsibility “adapt their approaches accordingly”. The report said the Food Standards Agency (FSA) should also ensure information is shared with its European counterparts and with the devolved administrations, such as Scotland, in the UK.

One way to promote public confidence

The report said: “The FSA will only be able to promote public confidence in its role as regulator of the food industry if it builds open communication channels to share information and intelligence with other bodies early on.

“In future, it should not consider it acceptable to wait six weeks for a final confirmation of adulteration from one of our closest neighbours before acting itself.”


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