Cheap food and food security are incompatible, says food board chair

The horsemeat scandal has shown us it is very hard to have a proper food policy in this country, claimed chair of the London Food Board Rosie Boycott.

Speaking at the International Food & Drink Event (IFE) in London on Monday, Boycott said that although British food is terrific and British farmers reared produce to very high standards, farmers were being "whipped around the corners" by food from other countries.

She explained that farmers in the UK were in competition with producers from other countries, who did not rear animals to the same standards as the UK.

"We’ve seen the most extraordinary routes of food moving from country to country to country in the pursuit of ever-cheaper products in the supermarkets." She said this was happening while farmers in this country were going "broke" because they were losing money on each animal they produced.

As a result, the UK has a very big problem and Boycott said the panel’s focus on better checking systems was not the only thing they should be focusing on. "We need a better system full stop," she said, adding that she did not know what that system would be, but the need for cheap food and the need for food security were "not compatible".

Boycott said the food supply chain issues were not simple and could not be solved by increased testing, and added that she "couldn’t believe" that the cutbacks in the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had not had some effect on the situation.

However, in response to Boycott’s claims, deputy director of food policy at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, explained there was an economic situation and a financial crisis contributing to the situation. She said people wanted to eat, or to be able to afford, certain foods. But it was her belief that the issue of horsemeat did not come from cheap food.

Despite what Martinez-Inchausti claimed, Boycott further probed: "How can horsemeat not be to do with cheaper food, because it seems to be admitted that horsemeat is cheaper and that is why it got added. How can it be for any other reason at all?"

In response, Martinez-Inchausti said there was fraud in every single type of food, even in the more expensive types of food. But she said the horsemeat that was introduced into the supply chain had affected all types of foods, both cheap and expensive.

"The quality of food is high and we’re maintaining the standard while trying to maintain the cost of food. We’ve never had healthier food; we’re reducing the salt, we are reducing sugar and maintaining the quality."