New government plans for food establishments are enough to make us sick

Food poisoning could rise under proposals to cut back inspections of more than 80,000 catering establishments

Plans to weaken the regulation of almost 90,000 restaurants, shops, and food businesses will play "Russian roulette" with public health, warned Mary Creagh, Labour's spokesperson on the environment, food and rural affairs, last night.

New proposals by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) will place around 86,000 "food establishments" in a lower category of risk – resulting in more than 14,000 fewer inspections by environmental health officers each year.

The change to the Food Law Code of Practice – which FSA officials admit is driven by financial necessity – comes just months after the horsemeat scandal which saw the Government come under attack for reacting too slowly, and at a time when cases of some of the most serious forms of food poisoning are at their highest in five years.

There are almost 600,000 food establishments in Britain, from manufacturers, producers and importers to shops and restaurants. Under the new measure, which will be presented to the Public Health minister, Anna Soubry, after a consultation ends next month, around 86,000 food premises will be put into a lower risk category. They will be moved from their current C grade, which represents medium risk to public health, to a lower D category, going from an inspection every 18 months to one every two years.

Mrs Creagh attacked the move: "Recategorising 86,000 businesses and reducing their inspections could end up impacting on consumer safety. The horsemeat scandal has shown that we cut regulatory services at our peril." She added: "Each year tens of thousands of people fall sick from food poisoning in the UK, and for some it can prove life-threatening. So downgrading these inspections is essentially the Government playing Russian roulette with public health."

Total cases of salmonella, campylobacter, E coli, norovirus and listeria, confirmed by FSA laboratory tests, have risen from 78,733 in 2008 to 97,489 in 2012. There are around a million cases of food-borne illness in the UK each year, resulting in 20,000 hospital admissions and 500 deaths, according to the FSA's chief scientist, Dr Andrew Wadge, with a cost to the economy estimated at £1.8bn a year through treatment and lost days of work.

While the number of food premises in the highest risk categories, A and B, remain unchanged, representing around 40,000 restaurants and businesses, those in the middle will be slashed by almost half. The proportion with a C-risk rating will fall from 42 per cent to 26 per cent, with an increase in those ranked D from 18 per cent to 34 per cent. One in three of Britain's food establishments is assessed at the lowest risk level, E.

The consultation document states that the move is aimed to create "better targeting of resources" and reduce the regulatory burden on compliant establishments, and that "increasing financial pressures" mean local authorities are "forced to focus" on establishments that present "the greatest risk to public health".

The food industry will save more than £1m a year, while the saving for the FSA is something "we are unable to monetise", says the document.

Concerns were raised by the Tory MP Anne McIntosh, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, who said: "In the context of the recent horsemeat contamination incident, I am concerned that the Government plans to reclassify some food establishments as low risk."

The committee labelled the FSA as "flat-footed" and "unable to respond effectively" to the horsemeat scandal, and in a report last month said it "must become a more efficient and effective regulator of industry".

"At best, the new proposals could see more effort concentrated to improve "poorly performing, high-risk premises" commented Dr Lisa Ackerley, visiting professor of environmental health at the University of Salford. "However, it would be a great pity if, after downgrading premises and reducing their inspection frequency, the resources saved were not redeployed," she added.

In a statement, an FSA spokesperson said: "This change will ensure that local authority resources are focused on premises which are less compliant, and will benefit businesses which do comply. Where a local authority becomes aware of any evidence about poor standards in food premises or public health risks, they can carry out inspections and take swift action to protect public health."

But Jenny Morris, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, cautioned: "Food businesses can change very rapidly and something that was fairly low risk can become high risk very quickly. There needs to be an early warning system in place. If there is no robust monitoring of businesses outside the routine inspection system then it is possible that risks will rise."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal at the Golden Globes in 2011
film
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up