“One of the upsides of the horsemeat scandal – which was a straight fraud on the public – was a real interest by the public in assurance,” Paterson told our sister title FoodManufacture.co.uk in an exclusive video interview. “Quite rightly, the public wants to be assured that what they buy is what is sold on the packet.”
Local food supply chains had also received more attention, which demanded a response from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), he acknowledged.
‘Have to expand’
“There was much more sympathy for local suppliers and shorter supply chains, which means we are going to have to expand in some areas,” said Paterson.
For example, in the chicken sector Paterson pledged to study how government could help with planning permission to enable more chickens to be produced locally.
Much could also be done on branding and labelling to help consumers choose locally produced food. We are working on this with the European Commission, he said. “That's a very important issue for consumers.”
Paterson went on to warn that the European system of food regulation was “too trusting and too dependent on paperwork”.
He said: “The horsemeat issue was straight fraud that was criminal activity by people breaking the law trying to sell a product labelled as something it was not. There is a clear case for tightening up regulations. We need to do more physical testing to keep our regulation tight.”
More risk-based testing
That testing should be more risk-based and targeted, with a greater emphasis on random testing.
In a wide-ranging interview, Paterson went on to highlight the potential for domestic food production to replace imports. Up to 22% of the food eaten in this country is imported but could be produced here.
Definite gains were available particularly in the dairy sector. “There’s over a £1bn dairy deficit in this country. Why when we have a brilliant dairy industry?” he asked.
Paterson claimed that exploiting that potential was best accomplished under the leadership of DEFRA, rather than any other government department.
Meanwhile, shoppers’ concerns about food traceability had risen rapidly after the horsemeat crisis, according to new research presented at the IGD Convention in London today (October 8).
Watch Paterson outline the changes he wants to introduce post-horsemeat scandal in our exclusive video interview.
This article was first published in our sister magazine Food Manufacture.