Herald investigation raises real concerns on Scotland’s food protection standards

Rob Edwards reported yesterday, 17th February, on the results of a Herald investigation into the robustness of Scotland’s food protection regime.

This comes, of course in the wake of the widespread and growing scandal of food presented as something it is not, with everything from trace elements to 100% of horsemeat found recently in beef and lamb products.

What Edwards reports is the cutting of public expenditure in food protection in Scotland, with resulting job losses in the food inspectorate and a serious cur in the number of food samples sent for testing by Scotland’s local authorities.

The topline figure here is that samples sent to test have fallen from over 16,000 in 2008-09 to 10,236 in 2011-12. This is a 36% drop over a three year period.

Six particular local authorities are showing a particularly marked decline in the degree of attention they pay to this area. They are:

  • Highland
  • Renfrew
  • Angus
  • North Lanarkshire
  • East Ayr
  • Aberdeen

Edwards reports Unison’s figures as showing that there were 170 food inspectors in 2003, down 56% to 75 today.

He also shows a 21% drop in the number of ‘specialist food safety officers’ employed by local authorities over the past four years.

This combination of substantially fewer food inspectors on the ground and a serious reduction in the number of samples tested adds up to an enfeebled food protection regime just when Scotland is most aware of the need for it.

Apart from the horsemeat issues [and some great jokes] making the headlines in this field, there are very real issues which are running unchecked in the farmed salmon industry – and we all know how popular salmon products have become and how powerful this industry consequently is, with its high profits.

Concerns today are with the unknown destinations of the very large volumes of salmon who die annually from the range of diseases that hit the dense populations of salmon in the farm cages.

We published an article on this yesterday, linking the admirable and persistent research work of Argyll’s Saveseilsound campaigners with this issue on a national basis.

Anyone with a care for this matter should read that article – linked here. It identifies an issue of certain animal welfare concern and with a potentially serious impact on food safety.

The issue is the question of the processing of  salmon mortalities as fishmeal for feeding to growing salmon in the fish farms.

Writing in his own blog, Rob Edwards has reported that, during his enquiries on what happens to salmon mortalities, a spokesperson for Shetland Council told him that: ‘Some 2,193 tonnes of salmon waste were disposed of at the council’s landfill site in 2012. But most of the waste was turned into fishmeal at a factory at Heogan on Bressay.”

The worry here is what caused the deaths of these large volumes of fish.

Amoebic GIll Disease disease hit Scottish salmon farms hard in 2012 and is the most likely killer.

It is against EU regulations to send diseased salmon for fishmeal – and it is hard to know how the volumes of mortalities spoken of here by Shetland could have resulted from anything other than disease.

It is known that trace elements in fishmeal can cause disease in the salmon to which it is fed.

We do not know the consequences of a possible scenario where almost mature salmon are given a new batch of fishmeal which may contain dangerous trace elements – but go to harvest before they manifest signs of a food-carried disease already infecting them.

There is a real risk to food safety here which cannot be ruled out until we know where and how every salmon farm disposes of its mortalities.

The relatively recent evidence that Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease in humans is linked to the transmission through the food chain of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy [BSE], caused by the feeding to cattle of food containing meat elements, should be a major hedge against complacency here.

Neither SEPA, nor Argyll and Bute Council admit to knowledge or responsibility for anything to do with the disposal of fish mortaliities. Saveseilsound has discovered that the Fish Health Inspectorate has a statutory duty for the matter;  and is pursuing, under Freedom of Information, the extent to which the FHI has carried out that obligation.

With the quick-buck ethics of today impacting on food production – and hitting the most vulnerable who, like schoolchildren, hospital patients and the elderly, have no choice but to eat what they’re given and those on low incomes who have no practical option other than cheap food, Scotland needs to start taking seriously its food protection regimes.

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9 Responses to Herald investigation raises real concerns on Scotland’s food protection standards

  1. Gosh Newsie – are you really saying that the SNP can’t continue to blame Westminster!? Can it be true that food safety has been devolved to Holyrood for some time and they can be blamed for allowing horsemeat and other problems into the Scottish food chain?

    Or is this only a surprise to those members of the SNP who give it unquestioning support and do not understand what has been devolved to the Scottish Government and where their responsibilities lay?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. This is very interesting since it is now being reported that a manager in the Meat Hygene Service was two years ago involved in writing to Defra about drug laden horsemeat entering the food chain and Westminster ministers ignoring it.

    Currently ex Tory minister Ms Spelman is refusing to comment. The allegation is however a very serious one, and the question has to be why no action wppears to have been taken.

    Moreover, on the same tack I am extremely discomfiited to read reports that the chairman of the Iceland supermarket chain is blaming local authorties, hospitals and schools for the contamination scandal. Seems that he thinks that in trying to secure competiive prices the foregoing should take the blame for the adulteration.

    I’ll certainly not be buying anthing from Iceland with a chairman’s comments like that!

    However, turning back to testing, I understand that you have to specifically test for horse DNA. Ditto dog, cat, rat, donkey or whatever other source of carcass you are specifically looking for.

    So, the big question is why was the specific warning from a senior manager ignored by both Defra and it seems the ex minister who is now refusing to comment.

    Local authorities may get criticised for a lot, but what on earth has been going on in Defra /
    Westminster. What did they do with the warning, where did it go, what action was taken or was it a deliberate John Gummer moment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Willie, respectfully, I think you are on the wrong thread. This is about primarily Scottish issues, for which responsibility lies with the Scottish Government.

    If these allegations are true, presumably the SG are on top of it and have been pursuing it relentlessly on behalf of the Scottish people? I missed that one in the media, but please feel free to provide a link?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  4. BSE and the last foot and mouth epidemic were the products of light touch regulation coupled to ineptitude at the top of government departments and the chronic under-funding of inspection.

    I’m not in the least surprised that horse is in our food. I’ll be surprised if there isn’t much worse to come as this story develops.

    Has everyone forgotten the disgusting poultry scams of the not too distant past? Is there any reason why we should we have more confidence today than ten or twelve years ago?


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. With respect, “Trace elements” is not quite the wording you (Newsroom) are looking for (implies unusual chemical elements) but I accept your general point and I agree wholeheartedly.

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  6. Food Standards Agency in Aberdeen is basically a branch office controlled by London when powers of local authorities in the whole of the UK were transferred to the new FSA at the behest of the larger food retailers. Re Horse meat issues it was poor down trodden Republic of Ireland that found out about that scandal not super efficient centralised UK authorities.

    Not surprised really as Westminster is well and truly in bed with big retail and food producing companies. Just ask Lord Sainsbury etc . Just think how much money Tony Blair threw at the foot and mouth crisis to show how good he was . Pity he allowed it to happen in the first place by being lenient and Scotch beef etc suffered as a consequence along with the local farmers with no influence

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

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