Shopping: List of shame for food producers who cheat

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The Independent Online
Meatier food labels and the naming of firms that cheat or put their customers at risk are being introduced by the Government. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, describes big changes in food information, health and safety.

A government drive to protect the public from unsafe or unreliable food is expected next month, food safety minister Jeff Rooker told the Independent yesterday. Four pieces of action are on the way, the results of a combined effort by Jack Cunningham, Minister of Agriculture, and Mr Rooker, since the May election.

Next month, producers or retailers who fail the ministry's existing chemical testing programmes will be identified for the first time. If, for example, ministry scientists find an excessive level of water in whisky or meat, the brand name, or the name of the supermarket selling it, will be made public.

From November, under European regulations agreed in Brussels on Thursday, all products which might contain genetically modified foodstuffs, like soybean or maize from the US, will have to carry labels warning buyers. In January, the ministry will start to give individual hygiene assessment scores for each slaughter house and meat-cutting plant in the country - with the risk that supermarkets will boycott plants that are not up to scratch.

But Mr Rooker said the biggest and most substantive development would start to next year, with much clearer labelling of pre-packed food. "This is about labels that tell shoppers what is in their fish-cakes, their spring rolls, or their Lancashire hot-pot. Under the new regulations - which are voluntary from next summer, and compulsory from St Valentine's Day 2000 - manufacturers will have to say what is the percentage of fish in fish-cakes, vegetables in spring rolls, and mutton in hot-pot. The same goes for mushrooms in mushroom pie, beef mince in chilli con carne, and fruit in summer pudding.

"The ministry is operating as if it was the Food Standards Agency. We are changing the ethos and the culture of this previously beleaguered Whitehall department by publishing more information.

"As a ministry, we do thousands of product tests a year, including a chemical contaminant surveillance. They've always been published before, in the sense that they come out in a dry and technical form, without names, and nobody bothers with them.

"Now, if we've gone and tested vacuum-wrapped meat from a supermarket and we find a lot more water than there should be, we're going to name the supermarket it came from; if it's an own-brand piece of produce." Citing another example of something in the pipeline for publication, Mr Rooker said: "There's a well-known liquor, with may be a bit too much water in it. And we're also going to name the places, the clubs, the restaurants where we purchased things from; the dodgy ones are going to be highlighted from now on."

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