Lobbying against transparency of food contamination
A technical director at Tesco has been accused of lobbying the Government about its decision to publish rates of campylobacter contamination in chickens at individual supermarkets.
The director was the former head of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) immediately prior to starting work at Tesco in October 2012. A condition of him accepting the position at Tesco was that he did not lobby civil servants or ministers on behalf of Tesco for two years.
The Guardian was told that the director had a meeting with the senior civil servant responsible for the Department of Health’s public health division in June and warned “that the FSA proposals for publishing results, which included naming and shaming individual supermarkets, could provoke a food scare and damage the industry.”
The FSA had said that transparency about campylobacter contamination rates was a key part of their strategy to deal with industry’s failure to tackle what is the commonest form of food poisoning in the UK – it kills around 100 people and makes an estimated 280,000 sick each year.
But in summer 2014 the FSA delayed publishing the report saying that “other government departments have reflected to us concerns which are the same as those we’ve heard directly from retailers and producers”. The report was finally published on 27th November 2014.
Both Tesco and Smith declined to say whether he had lobbied on the supermarket’s behalf in apparent breach of the conditions of his appointment. In a statement, Tesco said that it is “committed to the reduction of the industry-wide issue of campylobacter in poultry”.
Tesco was the only retailer to have significantly fewer highly contaminated birds than the industry average, according to the FSA survey.
Asda had the highest prevalence of campylobacter overall, with 78% samples taken testing positive for campylobacter, followed by The Co-operative Group with 76%. Morrisons, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s had contamination rates of 69% each, while Marks & Spencer had 67%. Tesco had contamination rates of with 64.
This story has been added to our corporate database. The database powers all our live product guides, giving the score for each company on our rankings tables. Find out more about how we rate companies.
Ethical Consumer on Google+