Friday, 1 February 2013

We need an urgent 'COBR like' response to food procurement

I'm sure you have guessed what's coming, yes, another food procurement disappointment, this time relating to not just a failure to deliver Halal meat, but to make matters worse to discover in that within the Halal labeled food were found traces of pork. Not good. What do we do now? This is getting pretty serious.

One of my friends is a devout Muslim and I can understand his food vigilance - he places trust in those who prepare his food and confidence in their assurances.

My daughter has a serious peanut allergy. Since she was very young we have gone to great lengths to protect her from peanuts. Wherever she goes, her epi-pens have gone with her (I hope). We've spent years asking airlines to protect her from exposure from peanuts when she's on board (I'm sure you've heard the type of announcements which have caused her to blush). When we go out for meals we place trust in those who prepare her food and confidence in their assurances.

Globally, we have also been concerned with food security - "both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences".

A few years ago I was involved in the Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative. It was a serious, cross-Whitehall strategy to help the UK economy. In all the meetings I attended I just cannot recall any discussion suggesting a lack of confidence in food standards or that what was procured would not be received to specification. Ironically, every meeting included a detailed review of risks to the Programme. UK food procurement has a significant contribution to make to the economy.

How things have changed. We now appear to be stepping into the abbess in terms for food procurement risk.

We all need to eat food, yes, prisoners and those with food allergies too. We all need to buy food to feed ourselves and our nearest and dearest. The horsemeat discussion was able to be side-tracked through the discussion of "at that price what do you expect?". We have now reached a different position - a public sector institutional food procurement failure.

Now in fairness to the Ministry of Justice they appear to have taken the initiative, after the recent horsemeat procurement disasters to check prison food - gold stars for that.

The Justice Minster, Jeremy Wright has described this procurement failure as "absolutely unacceptable situation and one which we regret greatly ... ".

Delisting a single supplier in one central government department is not enough though, we need something which can ensure food safety and religious respect. We also need something which represents the linkage with the economy. I think we need something like a COBR response.

Where does the public sector get involved in food procurement? Well here are just a few examples:
  1. Hospitals;
  2. The armed forces;
  3. School meals;
  4. Blue light services;
  5. Meals on wheels;
  6. Nursery education;
  7. Children and adult care.
I'm sure you get the message. Looking a MoJ food procurement is insufficient. We need absolute confidence in public sector food procurement and the associated supply chains. Do we have to wait for the economic impact or some children to die from a failure? I hope not.

P.S. 6 February 2013 Aldi and Tesco remove ready meals from the shelves as a precautionary measure. 

7 February 2013 @SkyNewsBreak 9.23pm "Food Standards Agency urges consumers not to eat any Findus beef lasagne products as they may contain veterinary drugs." 

9 February 2013 International mafia activity now thought to be to blame: that's one thing probably impossible to prove.

15 February 2013 Horsemeat in school and hospital meals

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