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ITV Tonight find zero spent on food standard sampling this year by regulator

ITV’s Tonight programme has uncovered what could be serious gaps in the UK’s food safety system. Credit: ITV

According to figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request from ITV Tonight, the Food Standards Agency - a body set up to protect the public - has given no money at all in the past year to Local Authorities for food sampling tests.

Five years ago, at the height of the horse meat scandal, the agency gave £2.2 million to councils to undertake testing.

The FSA’s pot of money for food sampling is no longer available to cash strapped local authorities - some of which, according to evidence uncovered by the Tonight team, have done no standard food sampling and or hygiene sampling at all in the last year.

The research also indicates some local authorities have done no standard food sampling in the last year.

This type of sampling could relate to DNA checks, for example, to ensure lamb is actually lamb. Out of these local authorities, Blackpool has the highest saturation of fast food outlets per capita in England.

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Fast food outlets in Blackpool
Credit: ITV / Tonight

“The number of trading standards officers that we employ across the UK is around half of what it was in 2010, so half the amount of people unfortunately, they can’t do all the work that they used to be able to do.”

– Simon Blackburn, a spokesman for the Local Government Agency & Leader of Blackpool Council

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, a group that represents environmental health officers who carry out tests for bacterias like salmonella and E-Coli in food, says they are concerned at the lack of hygiene sampling. They say the FSA needs to resume funding.

“We would want to see that funding reinstated. I have to say the chartered institute of environmental health doesn't necessarily accept or understand that level of reduction.”

– Tony Lewis, Head of Policy - Chartered Institute of Environmental Health

The Food Standards Agency’s head of regulatory standards and assurance Michael Jackson told reporter Jonathan Maitland:

Credit: ITV / Tonight

“We are responsible for, in effect, policing the policemen. So it's our responsibility to make sure that local authorities are doing their job in accordance with the expectations that we set down.

“We're confident that we're doing a good job, but we're not complacent, and we're looking to further improve the system.”

– Michael Jackson, Food Standards Agency

Alongside food safety, the programme says an exodus of vets from EU countries who work in UK abattoirs could put food standards at risk.

Jason Aldiss, managing director of Eville & Jones, a company that employs around half of vets currently working in UK abattoirs, says around 20 a month are leaving – and there aren’t enough British vets to replace them.

A committee advising the government on immigration has suggested a ban on visas for foreign workers who earn less than £30,000 post Brexit. Abattoir vets’ salaries start below that figure.

Mr Aldiss believes that if these issues are not dealt with during the Brexit negotiations, things will deteriorate.

“It will end up damaging our industry so we’ll end up with more importation from other countries which isn’t going to do our farming sector any good and product will be coming in with differing standards.”.

– Jason Aldiss, Managing Director of Eville & Jones
Ten pizzas ITV Tonight collected from Greater Manchester to test for food substitution in toppings. Credit: ITV / Tonight

To explore the issue of food substitution, Tonight purchased 10 ham and pineapple pizzas at random from 10 independent takeaway restaurants across the Greater Manchester area, which were then sent off for testing by a public analyst, Dr Duncan Campbell.

Dr Campbell tested the meat - described as ham - on top of the pizza and found that 9 out of 10 were actually turkey rather than pork, which many people might not expect.

Credit: ITV / Tonight

“Does it matter that it’s turkey on your pizza when you asked for ham? Does it matter if there is some horse in your beef lasagne? Does it matter if the optic on the bar saying famous grouse is the cheap whiskey that was on offer at the cash and carry? I think that it matters.”

– Dr Duncan Campbell, public analyst

Manchester City Council said:

"It is never acceptable for food to be mislabelled and we will take action in cases where this is detected. Where meat has not been described accurately and businesses have not heeded advice, we have taken forward successful prosecution cases. As a result of this investigation, we will be contacting the businesses concerned."

ITV Tonight contacted The Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, headed by Michael Gove.

They declined to appear on camera as part of the programme, but they gave this statement:

"The UK is home to some of the highest food safety standards, and we are committed to making sure all UK consumers have complete trust in our food// both now and when we leave the EU.

Vets play a crucial role in maintaining the UK’s food safety which is why we are working on a variety of initiatives to ensure we have access to the right people with the right skills as the UK leaves the EU."

Further Information

Local authority data obtained by Tonight via the Local Authority Enforcement Monitoring System (LAEMS) report on food standard and food safety testing between the year 2017-18.

If you want to check your Local Authority you can find it via the LAEMS report here

Let us know your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, using #ITVTonight.

  • What's In Our Meat? will air on ITV at 7:30pm on Thursday 25th October