NFMFT calls for beefing up of food fraud penalties

The National Federation of Meat & Food Traders (NFMFT) has said the government should impose stricter penalties on those caught selling illegal meat, as a nationwide crack-down on food crime gets underway. 

Local councils have taken a tough stance on food crime, with raids on properties suspected of illicit activity rising by 10% in three years.

But only a small number have faced legal action and the punishment for criminals caught supplying illegal meat is “too lenient”, according to the NFMFT.

“Very few criminals get caught, but those who do seem to get off with very light sentences and we’ve spent a lot of time criticising the government for not getting on top of this,” said Richard Stevenson, NFMFT’s technical manager. “It [selling illegal meat] is a serious offence and it should carry a serious penalty.”

Stevenson highlighted a case from 2013, where an illegal slaughterhouse in Wales was fined £3,000 for a string of food hygiene and animal by-product offences.

This low penalty was “absolutely ridiculous” he said, calling for tougher action to be taken.

Local councils in the UK have stepped up their efforts to tackle food crime. Raids on off-licences and takeaways are up from 115 in 2012-13 to 127 in 2014-15, according to the commercial law firm EMW, citing figures from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

According to this data, 363 raids were carried out over the three-year period, but just 45 of them resulted in legal prosecution.

One reason for the low level of prosecutions might be that authorities lack staff, funding and/or resources said EMW, although the law firm raised concerns over the ability of local councils to tackle food crime.

Late-night takeaways and fast food outlets, where meat can be mislabelled and misrepresented to consumers, remained a big issue for the industry, added EMW. “Although there has been a rise in raids, consumers will remain concerned that there are many more businesses escaping Trading Standards’ net,” said Sebastian Calnan, a consultant at the law firm.

“Horror stories of takeaways substituting the advertised meat for illegal or unsavoury alternatives have been well publicised,” added Calnan. “Trading standards teams do a great job, but without adequate funding or resources, instances of food and drink fraud or mis-selling may slip through the cracks. As takeaways are common culprits of food fraud or mis-selling, trading standards teams at local councils will often target these venues, but more still needs to be done to ensure the selling of food and drink is both safe and fair for the consumer.”

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