The pharmaceutical supply chain has developed a set of integrity protections against fraud, using transparency and accountability in aid of human health. The same can apply to food, if a choice is made to do so.
DEFRA collects large amounts of data on the food chain, especially around meat products, and the Government has now announced mandatory CCTV in abattoirs. While it collects a great deal of data, it still publishes very little of it in a form that is accessible and usable to the citizen in the supermarket.
From data that is already mandatory and collected, but not available, it is possible to see every regulated step of the batch of meat as it turns into the packet of mince in your hand.
We saw a failure a few weeks ago with eggs – how does a citizen know whether the eggs in their fridge may have been affected? Without factual information, they are reliant on trusting that the system really worked during a recall, when the recall is solely because the system already failed. It is not a trust generating scenario.
People may believe that British products may be more inspected and trustworthy than others elsewhere, but there is currently no competitive advantage to that. Only with Government showing what standards are met can the public see that they have been met. What does the British flag on food actually mean?
Where there are false assertions made, and proven, then other products of the perpetrators can be clearly shown as affected, and those unaffected have peace of mind based on knowledge and fact. It is insufficient to know that it shouldn’t be a problem – it is necessary to know that it wasn’t.
As Avaaz push a petition against the farmer whose neglect caused the death of 20,000 pigs burnt alive in a fire, the farmer who treats their animals well get the benefits of being seen to do the right thing. Those who choose otherwise are also seen to do so.
DEFRA’s data transformation project has done great work to make this possible – the next step is easier than the previous ones.
As the UK considers the basis for future trade arrangements, it would be a step forward for them to be based on evidence and knowledge, not merely political hope.