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:
- North Lanarkshire
- East Ayr
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.