FSA boss Catherine Brown said: “We need to work better with industry to share information and ideas and potential hazards and problems in the supply chain.”
Brown, who was speaking at the FSA board meeting earlier this week, added that initial conversations with businesses suggested there was now more of a willingness to consider sharing data than previously.
But food safety expert Dr Jo Head told FoodManufacture.co.uk last year that there would always be a fear among manufacturers that their confidential information might fall into the wrong hands.
‘Out of people’s comfort zone’
“There is sensitivity about sharing data. It is out of people’s comfort zone,” she said. “You don’t know how confidential others will be and what they might use your data for.”
She added that firms fear if competitor companies saw their data, they could either undercut them to their customers or steal their recipe ideas.
FSA board member and former Home Office chief scientific advisor Paul Wiles said he understood the concerns over sharing data. But as the horsemeat scandal was a “huge failure” of the European food safety structure, manufacturers had to do all they could to prevent a similar event happening again.
“We have seen fraud and down-right criminality that could have been a lot worse,” he said. “If we are to prevent any more criminal behaviour happening again we need to share data.
“The industry won’t want to because of commercially sensitive information. But If they don’t, we won’t have the intelligence and could end up with another train wreck on our hands.”
Wiles added that if manufacturers did not share their data, the FSA would not be able to build trust among consumers or protect companies when things went wrong.
“We need to understand the systems businesses have in place and the safety and quality controls in place, so we can protect the consumer,” said Brown.
FSA chief scientist Andrew Wadge said that although there was a “significant amount” of sharing of data – the industry could still do more.
Republic of Ireland
The FSA also announced it would work on its relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), after it emerged the FSAI was aware of contamination of horsemeat in beef products weeks before it shared the information with the FSA.
“As part of our lessons learned we will be exploring with them what we can do to improve mechanisms for information exchange, strongly in the interest of both parties,” said Brown.