UK

Horse Meat Scandal Sees Public Trust In Food Industry Fall

13/03/2013 09:15 GMT | Updated 13/03/2013 09:18 GMT

More than half of consumers have changed their shopping habits as a result of the horse meat scandal, a survey for consumer group Which? has found.

Public trust in the food industry has dropped by 24%, with 30% of those polled now buying less processed meat and almost a quarter buying fewer ready meals with meat in or choosing vegetarian options.

Politicians came in for a kicking too, as the Which? survey, conducted by Populus between 22 February and 24 February after it surveyed 2,064 UK adults online, also revealed 68% of shoppers do not think the government has been giving enough attention to enforcing labelling laws, with half of consumers now not confident that ingredient information is accurate.

Shoppers' cynicism has resulted in 44% of us now spending more time looking at the ingredients label on meat products, with 83% agreeing that country of origin labelling should be required on such items.

Confidence in food safety has also dropped, from 92% feeling confident when buying products in the supermarket before the scandal broke to 72% feeling confident now.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "The horse meat scandal exposed the need for urgent changes to the way food fraud is detected and standards are enforced. These serious failings must be put right if consumers are to feel fully confident in the food they are buying once more.

"Ministers must ensure that everyone involved, including their own departments, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the food industry and local authorities, are crystal clear about their responsibility to protect consumers and are properly equipped to do so."

The government must take five "urgent" steps, including more surveillance that is better co-ordinated between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the FSA and local authorities, and the immediate scrapping of proposals to decriminalise failure to comply with food labelling legislation, according to Which?.

It also wants the food industry to improve traceability, labelling and testing of products, with the responsibility for labelling policy returned to the FSA from Defra.

In response, a Defra spokeswoman told Press Association: "The recent horse meat scandal came about because of criminal activity - quite clearly people have been deliberately breaking the law.

"This is a European-wide problem and the gvernment acted immediately to push for a European-wide solution. In addition, we mobilised industry and local authorities to embark on an unprecedented level of food testing to provide reassurance to consumers.

"From now on, the food industry will publish results of its own testing every three months. These tests are backed up by local authority officers who analyse upwards of 90,000 food samples across the country every year. We will work with the FSA and food businesses to learn lessons and to make any changes that are needed to restore and maintain consumer confidence in the food chain."

The results of the survey comes as supermarket giant Tesco announced it had withdrawn a line of its frozen meatloaf after tests revealed it contained between 2% and 5% horse meat.

It said it had pulled the 600g packs of Tesco Simply Roast Meatloaf made between October last year and January at Eurostock in Craigavon, Northern Ireland, from its shelves.

It was the fourth of its products to test positive for horse meat contamination.