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Hundreds die as food chiefs cut corners

This article is over 10 years, 5 months old
Our lives are being put at risk as cuts to inspections and testing make it easier for greedy food bosses to drive down standards, reports Raymie Kiernan
Issue 2391
Meat on a supermarket shelf
Meat on a supermarket shelf

It’s been a year since the horsemeat scandal, but the way food is being produced continues to put our lives at risk.

Latest figures show around a million people suffer from foodborne illnesses each year. Of these around 20,000 receive hospital treatment and 500 die.

Most of the time it’s just small fast food restaurants that are represented as having bad food hygiene. 

But chickens sold in major supermarkets have been found to be contaminated with campylobacter.

This is a type of bacteria which causes nasty food poisoning with severe diarrhoea. Food poisoning from campylobacter causes some 22,000 hospitalisations and 110 deaths each year alone.

Contaminated food is part of a wider, systemic problem with how food is produced under capitalism.

Food is big business. At every stage, from growing it to manufacturing and selling it, big players dominate the food business.

Mass production techniques combined with cost cutting at every stage and the driving down of conditions create bad food hygiene.

Consumer watchdog Which? says that one in three food businesses aren’t complying with food hygiene requirements.

This shocking news comes as Professor Chris Elliot, who chaired a review of the horsemeat scandal, said food fraud and misrepresentation are endemic in Britain.

Since the Tories came into office, some 63 percent of local authorities have cut workers who carry out safety inspections on food businesses or test food products. 

This has cut the amount of food samples that are tested. 

Tests by one laboratory on 900 samples from Yorkshire alarmingly found 38 percent were not what they claimed to be, or were mislabelled in some way. 

They showed cheaper ingredients replacing expensive ones to be a persistent problem with meat and dairy. This is while prices for both have soared recently on commodity markets. 

Samples of beef contained pork or poultry, or both. And beef was being passed off as more expensive lamb, especially in ready meals and by wholesalers.

Local government environmental health workers say cuts are making the situation worse. A Unison union survey of its members working as environmental health officers (EHOs) sounded the alarm.

One worker said, “Qualified EHOs in my council are now doing all their own admin work due to reduction in admin/clerical staff. 

“This has reduced ability to do the job by 30-40 percent.”

The constant drive to make a profit and produce food as cheaply as possible can lead bosses to cut corners and take scandalous risks with our health.

And the lack of inspections and testing makes it easier for them to get away with it.

Bosses police themselves, with unsavoury results

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) was formed after scandals exposed a rotten system of food regulation.

And over the past 14 years business interests have gradually come to dominate the FSA’s board.

In 2000, around a third of the FSA board declared personal interests. 

But by the end of 2007 it was over 90 percent. 

They either worked or had worked in the food industry, had a close relative who did or had financial interests in the sector.

So it’s no surprise that it’s unusual for food producers to be investigated and even less usual for them to be prosecuted.

On top of this, food businesses have successfully lobbied successive governments for lighter regulation in the food industry.

More and more responsibility has been shifted onto food operators to check their food hygiene themselves.

A recent report into the pig slaughtering industry showed that the current design was based upon speeding up the slaughtering process—not checking food safety.

Pig suppliers and the FSA now want to change how meat is checked. 

They want to introduce visual inspections instead of cutting the animals open to check for sickness or diseases.

This “no-knife policy” cannot guarantee the animals are safe for consumption. 

It will also not guarantee that abscesses won’t find their way into sausages, pies and other meat products.

It’s bad enough we already face such delicacies as “meat emulsion”—meat that has been ground with additives so fat can be put through it.

Now because of the latest policies designed to make production smoother for bosses we could be faced with eating diseased meat too.

Council cuts  threaten safety

The Unison union announced in January that councils in England have been forced to cut billions from their budgets since the Tories came into power.

This means that environmental and safety checks on business has dropped off—meaning safety standards go down.

Fewer tests as labs shut down

 Testing food in the lab is one of the key ways of checking food safety. 

But the number of public analysts who work in labs in England has been slashed from 40 to 29 since 2010. 

And official labs now stand. Four having closed within the last two years. The number of all local authority food samples tested has dropped by more than a quarter.

Fire retardant juice, anyone?

 It’s not just meats that have been contaminated.

 Fruit juice sampled was found to contain brominated vegetable oil, an additive banned in the EU. This is designed for use in flame retardants and it has also been linked to behavioural problems in rats at high doses. 


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