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Novel foods fall through Trading Standards' net

By Nicholas Robinson+

Last updated on 10-Feb-2014 at 09:33 GMT2014-02-10T09:33:10Z

Imported ethnic ingredients could pose a safety risk
Imported ethnic ingredients could pose a safety risk

Trading Standards (TS) don’t have the resources to check for the potentially dangerous unapproved novel foods illegally on sale on the UK market, it has emerged.

Insufficient resources make it difficult for TS to keep tabs on these products – particularly those believed by some experts to be on sale through small retail outlets across the country – said TS team leader David Pickering.

Pickering said small firms, suppliers and retail outlets were unlikely to have the expertise to understand what novel foods were or the legislation governing their use. “They are the ones that really struggle to stay on top of legislation and, for us, it’s difficult because we don’t have the resources to get to every business,” said Pickering.

Legal requirements

It was essential that local authorities had sufficient resources to enforce their legal requirements, such as the implementation of EU novel foods law, said Professor Clare Mills, a member of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), which is the competent UK authority for approving novel foods.

Mills, who is a professor of molecular allergology at the School of Translational Medicine, University of Manchester, shared Pickering’s concerns about inadequate local authority resourcing. Because of savage budget cuts, TS and environmental health departments were “stretched too thin” to do their jobs properly, she said.

Some small businesses relied on advice from TS officers to learn about food legislation that applies to them. But with too few TS officers available to carry out these tasks, this now happened less, Pickering claimed.

Health risk

The potential health risk to consumers from the sale of unapproved novel foods – such as those from south-east Asia containing novel ingredients – was an issue, but was unlikely to be a “top five” priority for the Food Standards Agency, said Pickering.

Mills, said authorities were more likely to focus on the “bigger picture of food safety”, such as food fraud and microbiological problems. Businesses likely to be selling unapproved novel foods were small ethnic shops which, while not posing a health threat to huge numbers of people, did represent some risk, she said. However, they often went under the radar.

Meanwhile, TS is taking part in the Food Manufacture Group's free one-hour webinar, dedicated to exploring the implications of the FIR for food firms, at 11am GMT on Thursday February 20. Reserve your free place for the webinar, The Food Information to Consumers Regulation: what you need to know, here

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