FSA crime hotline going unanswered after meat scandal

A key hotline for staff at food processing firms to report food crime went unanswered during working hours just weeks after claims of widespread rule breaches at a large meat processor.

The Food Crime Confidential line, run by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), is for whistleblowers at firms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to report incidences of crimes such as misrepresentation and substitution of food, as well as document fraud.

Yet, the hotline – one of two ways the FSA has said crime should be reported – was not answered during working hours on 1, 2 and 3 April, according to claims made by the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (Aims).

See also: Exclusive: Mass food fraud and safety scandal engulfs sector

Aims staff tried the number on two further occasions this week and it was answered by an operator once and went to answerphone on the other occasion.

A spokesperson for the FSA said that recent interruptions to the phone service were likely to have been a result of technical difficulties, which were now resolved.

The lapse follows allegations first published by Farmers Weekly that a meat processor, which cannot be named for legal reasons, had frequently been relabelling substantial amounts of imported pork as British.

The same processor was also accused of widespread food safety violations over a number of years, including falsifying paperwork for listeria and E coli.

Campaign launched

The revelations have led Farmers Weekly to launch a campaign, called Meat: Our Expectations, to bring the industry together to agree on changes that need to take place to protect the integrity of the meat supply chain.

One recommendation is to compel firms to increase awareness of how to report rule breaches within factories after sources at the processor at the centre of the story said last month they were not aware of who they should blow the whistle to.

Dr Chris Elliott, a food crime expert at Queens University Belfast, told Farmers Weekly that “displaying [the number] in factories, in more than one language, is really important…and could be a very important and initial first step”.

Further recommendations at this stage include making digital records mandatory to make tampering more difficult and having an independent body verify the amount of UK meat going in and out of factories.

Have your say on what the industry needs to do to clean up its act by contacting us at farmersweekly@markallengroup.com

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