Consumers and food industry workers would greatly benefit from the proposed new food crime unit, recommended in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Thursday 4 September).
The new unit with full police powers and expertise, similar to the Dutch model, was the key recommendation contained in today’s report, triggered by the Europe-wide scandal, by food safety academic Prof. Chris Elliot.
Unite, which represents thousands of workers in the agricultural, food, drink and retail distribution industries, also welcomed the call for improved laboratory testing capacity, with a standardised approach – but pointed out that local council trading standards departments have suffered swingeing cuts in England and Wales since the coalition came to power in 2010.
Unite national officer for food and agriculture Julia Long said the development of a whistleblowing system to better facilitate the reporting of food crime was a step in the right direction, as many frontline workers spot the early signs of illegal activity but are too afraid to speak out.
Julia Long said: “The culture that encourages fraud as described in Prof. Elliott’s report affects the safety of the food we eat. But it also affects thousands of workers who produce that food, including many of our members.
“Illegal deduction of pay, serious breaches of health and safety, intimidation, and, in the most serious cases, trafficking and abuse run alongside the acts of fraud highlighted in the Elliot report - and they are fuelled by the same motive – profit at any cost.
“Can consumers trust products from food companies that abuse their workers in this way, and from retailers who audit fruit and veg more carefully than they audit workers’ rights?
“If the nation is serious about cleaning up its food system, then trade unions need to be at the centre of these efforts – and ministers need to ensure that sufficient resources are made available to underpin the new regulatory system with the food crime unit at its heart.”
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940 and/or the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065.
Notes to editors:
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.