IT'S BEEN a tough couple of weeks for the British food industry. First there was the discovery of horse DNA in burgers supplied by the food manufacturer ABP to the likes of Burger King and Tesco. Then pork DNA turned up in halal pastry products made by McColgan Quality Foods and supplied to prisons through distributor 3663. Islamic law forbids the consumption of pork.
Cue much pointing of fingers and soundbites in the media – “shocked” and "unacceptable" were frequently used by ministers, standards agencies and food companies alike – and then an emergency meeting. In a few hours the need for a new testing regime was agreed. Given the nature of the cases and the consumer backlash for some of the UK’s best-known brands, the Food Standards Agency needs to turn the theory into practice quickly.
New testing regimes cannot be rushed, but while the horsemeat issue took us by surprise, there have been questions about halal before. In 2011, Footprint convened a roundtable following investigations by the Mail on Sunday into halal being served to "unwitting members of the public". It was obvious then that foodservice – and the retail sector – found the issues around halal challenging. And yet, two years on, we find ourselves at the centre of another storm and still with a confusing certification system and no progress on labelling.
Fingers can be pointed and apologies offered, but what consumers want is action. The new testing regime is welcome, as is the publication of the results. Europe is also considering labels showing how animals are slaughtered.
This focus on transparency and information now needs to spread through the supply chain: whether you are a producer, processor, distributor, caterer or retailer – and whether it’s meat, fruit, coffee or any other product – you have a responsibility to know what is going on above and below you in the chain. Yes, we need to get to the bottom of the who, why and how of the pork and horsemeat scandals, but enough of the finger-pointing: we all have a responsibility to put the quality stamp back on the British food industry and ensure that consumers trust what they are being sold.