The Government has introduced ‘temporary’ lifting of regulations affecting the food supply system, including those associated with competition, gang-master licensing, curfews on store deliveries, MOTs, et al.
Regulations exist for a reason. And while the UK has some of the highest food standards in the world, a few will exploit every loophole they see.
Food companies with an ambivalent attitude towards the ethics of good food practice will find themselves with commercial opportunities with this new regulatory environment.
Later on, they’ll find willing listeners among politicians viscerally opposed to what they see as unnecessary red tape in their of lobbying a continuing relaxation or even abolition, a risk compounded if the UK withdraws from the EU regulatory framework.
Unscrupulous organisations, perhaps organised criminals are already using social media to sell unsafe food, as this twitter exchange between @NFCUCrimeFlops and ourselves illustrates. Note, too, that this kind of food crime disproportionately affects the poor — and, as our previous blogpost outlined, there is a rapidly increasing number of people without sufficient income to pay for essentials.
Thus it’s important to the many British companies who produce our food to the highest of standards to know:
- If one company lowers standards, unrestrained competitive forces do not drive others to follow suit.
- What “temporary” means, and when and by whom these regulatory changes will be monitored and reviewed.
- The monitoring and review process should be transparent and in the public domain.
Monitoring should include assessment of the following:
- The welfare of employees
- note: Labour exploitation and modern-day slavery is never far from the agricultural sector; see this 2018 Evidence Briefing from the Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab.
- The welfare of animals on farms and at abattoirs.
- Food safety and authenticity testing.
- note: Food safety officers are no longer visiting sites. Instead, virtual audit will now apply.
Given the pre-Covid-19 cuts in public spending, it seems unlikely that there will be enough Trading Standards and food safety officers to carry out the monitoring necessary. This is a matter of urgent concern for, as we indicated in our reply to @NFCUCrimeFlops tweet above, a food poisoning outbreak on top of Covid-19 . . . doesn’t bear thinking about.
See also a later blogpost: Millions do not have access to enough food, in which we point out that scammers, the unscrupulous and organised crime prey on people who don’t have access to enough food.