Britain faces ‘significant risks’ to the quality of imported food as a lack of full checks post-Brexit, and pandemic disruption and the war in Ukraine, put pressure on food standards, a report has warned.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have also said that recent increases in food prices present a ‘growing threat’ to the standard of food people eat.
The watchdogs warned there was a risk that price rises will make a healthier and more sustainable diet feel an ‘unreachable goal’.
Food safety concerns: Britain’s failure to establish full import controls for high-risk food from the EU, like eggs, has reduced its ability to prevent the entry of unsafe products in the country
The concerns outlined in the report comes as many Britons already feel they cannot afford a healthy diet amid rising prices.
The FSA and FSS’ survey of over 6,000 people found that over half Britons, or 53 per cent, say they feel ‘priced out’ of buying healthy food.
Meanwhile, one in four now feel the only foods ‘realistically available’ to them are heavily processed, increasing to around half for households facing food insecurity.
‘It is likely that the quality of the nation’s plate may be affected as the squeeze in household incomes intensifies this year,’ the report states.
The watchdogs said that while food safety standards have largely been maintained so far, this was a ‘cautious conclusion’ and there were challenges ahead.
Britain’s failure to establish full import controls for high-risk food from the EU, like meat, dairy and eggs, has reduced its ability to prevent the entry of unsafe products in the country.
‘The longer the UK operates without assurance that products from the EU meet our high food and feed safety standards, the less confident we can be that we can effectively identify potential safety incidents,’ said the FSA Chair, Susan Jebb.
She added: ‘Establishing full UK import controls on food by the end of next year from the EU is a priority.’
The EU remains by far our biggest supplier, accounting for over 90 per cent of all beef, dairy, eggs and pork products imported into the UK and nearly two-thirds, or 65 per cent, of all food and feed not of animal origin.
The UK Government announced in May that full import controls for goods coming from the EU to Britain would be further delayed and replaced by a modernised approach to border controls by the end of 2023.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has disrupted regular food inspections across the food industry, with further disruption continuing due a lack of resources and qualified food inspectors.
‘There has been a fall in the level of local authority inspections of food businesses,’ the report states.
‘The situation is in the process of being repaired – in particular in food hygiene inspections of cafés and restaurants – but progress is constrained by resource and the availability of qualified professionals.’
The chart shows that food prices rose by 4.5% between December 2020 and December 2021
Official figures have showed that food prices rose by 6.7 per cent in the year to April, after a 4.5 per cent rise between December 2020 and December 2021.
UK households spent an average of £72.45 a week on food, or an equivalent of £30 per person per week.
However, when adjusted for inflation, we were spending 5.8 per cent more on food in real terms in 2021 than we did over the previous five years on average, according to the report – though this will vary between households.
The watchdogs said the report, the first of its kind, will likely show a strong link between higher prices and less safe foods when its second edition is published next year.
‘This was a period when rising food prices were beginning to be felt,’ it states.
‘As we will see, there is a risk that this will make a healthier and more sustainable diet feel an unreachable goal.
‘We expect that the affordability of food – and especially “good food” – will be a significant theme in next year’s annual report.’
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