One year on from the horse meat scandal there is a huge variation in the levels of UK food standards in the UK, according to Which?
The consumer watchdog said some authorities are struggling to ensure their local businesses comply with hygiene rules.
The report comes as EFRA Committee Chair Anne McIntosh said lessons remain to be learned about how horse meat contaminated British food.
Which? found in some areas more than one in three of high and medium risk food businesses aren’t complying with food hygiene requirements.
FSA data shows that food testing fell by 6.8% from the previous year and testing for labelling and presentation fell by 16.2%.
It used the 2012/13 Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System (LAEMS) hygiene database from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to rate 395 local authorities.
Five action areas
Which? called on government and the FSA to take action in five areas including, a consumer-focused joined approach across policy areas and better use of resources and expertise.
Anticipating threats and problem areas, ensuring independence and prioritising consumer interests and tough sanctions and incentives for compliance were suggested.
“Responsibility for food labelling and standards policy should be returned to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and it should ensure there is a system for sharing intelligence and co-ordinating activity across all local authorities,” said the report.
“Penalties must be increased for businesses who don’t comply with the hygiene standards and the FSA must step up its support for local authorities and have the powers to intervene in complex and national cases.”
Which? also called for inspections to be based on the risk of a business and backed up with unannounced inspections and more local authority testing.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, voiced concerns about the checking of food standards, such as the accuracy of food labels.
“No one wants another horse meat 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.”
No prosecutions yet
Today marks the first UK contamination of horse meat coming to light and McIntosh said five reports later was a good time to take stock of the situation.
“In its report of July 2013 the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee called for those responsible for the horse meat scandal to be identified and prosecuted in order to restore consumer confidence in the UK’s frozen meat sector.
“The Committee felt that the FSA should become a more efficient and effective regulator and be seen to be independent of industry.
“The FSA must have the power to be able to compel industry to carry out tests when needed. It must also be more innovative in its testing regime and vigilant in ensuring every local authority carries out regular food sampling.”