As you may have heard today, 17.04.14, the Food Standards Agency in the UK has detailed results of an investigation into lamb curries. After testing one-hundred-and-forty-five takeaway lamb curries it was discovered forty-three had been ‘wrongly described’.
Before going any further I’m going to take issue with the term ‘wrongly described’.
Imagine this example: I’ve sold you a new kitchen table and before delivery I told you it had straight, square edges. However, on receipt of the table you found it had curved edges. That my friends, is wrongly describing something.
To blatantly, knowingly, willingly, change the type of meat in a meal labelled alternatively, is not wrongly describing something. It’s fraud.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that someone only slipped a few cubes of beef into a lamb curry to pad it out a bit, there was more than a few cubes! In fact, twenty-five of the forty-three fraudulent curries (not a phrase often heard, but more accurate than ‘wrongly described’) only contained beef. There wasn’t any lamb. Neither thankfully was there horsemeat, but both turkey and chicken made an appearance.
The consumer organisation Which? discovered forty percent of curries they tested contained other meats.
As per the Food Standards Agency, Which? sampled lamb curries and chose London and Birmingham for testing. Of the thirty takeaway curries tested in Birmingham over half, sixteen, contained other meats.
The penalty for transgressions in this area a fine up to £5,000 and the Food Standards Agency has made prosecutions, but in the same breath, Chief Operating Officer Andrew Rhodes talks about the ‘reoccurring nature of this problem’.
What can be done about it?
Firstly, if any consumer has the slightest doubt about the type of meat in a curry you must report it to your local Trading Standards office. Secondly, be prepared to pay a little more if you can – the main driver for using beef instead of lamb is reducing cost, if it’s too cheap it may well be too good to be true. Thirdly, asks questions – simple ones regarding the type of meat used, where it was sourced, how it has been cooked, anything to put pressure onto retailers and to reassure yourself.
But policing the food industry can’t solely be the job of consumers, you should have the confidence to walk into any establishment and know what you’re buying is true to its description.
The government, Food Standards Agency and retailers themselves need to work much harder to stop the travesties. Travesties that undermine the sterling efforts of the individuals and businesses that work hard to promote and establish a food industry we can be proud of and trust in.
As a result of the Food Standards Agency’s review, local authorities starting in May, will be testing another three-hundred lamb takeaways, and the government is also testing beef products for horsemeat as required to do so by the European Commission.
However, we need to see more prosecutions under the Food Safety Act 1990 which makes mislabelling food a criminal offence. More random unannounced testing of a range of products and more bans for individuals and retailers who repeatedly flout the law and commit fraud.