Labelling checks 'scaled back' by local councils

15th January 2014 - Fine Cut

Cost-cutting measures rolled out by UK local authorities could soon impact food standards in restaurants and retail outlets, as fewer labelling and authenticity checks are set to take place.

Research carried out by consumer watchdog Which? suggested that product identification and menus could be altered by rogues looking to con members of the public - increasing the potential of a repeat of the horsemeat scandal.

Examining data from 395 councils in the UK and using data submitted to the Food Standards Agency, the body ranked how well authorities are performing on food safety enforcement.

Findings revealed that overall food testing dropped by 6.8 per cent between 2012 and 2013 compared to the previous period, continuing an ongoing decline in this area. The testing of food to show it was accurately described on labels and menus also dropped by 16.2 per cent.

Researchers found that Bexley in London was the poorest performing local authority in the country, while five other councils in the capital also featured in the bottom ten - Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, Richmond upon Thames and Southwark.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: "No one wants another horsemeat fiasco, so it is very worrying that local authority food checks are in decline.

"We want to see a more strategic approach to food law enforcement that makes the best use of limited resources and responds effectively to the huge challenges facing the food supply chain."

The Local Government Association said authorities are trying their best given budget cuts that have been imposed by politicians over the last few years. Its regulation spokesman Nick Worth said councils are "working hard to maintain and improve food safety standards", despite ongoing pressures.

Food labelling has been the subject of major media scrutiny in recent months, as lobby groups call for clearer identification and ingredient information on items to give shoppers more choice about their diets.

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