Polling stations open for business on Thursday morning in the UK and the country is firmly in the grip of election fever as I write. With the electorate poised to deliver its verdict on who should be entrusted with running things for the next five years it seems like a good time to examine the policies the major parties have formulated to tackle food safety. Accordingly, I did some research. Obviously I didn’t go so far as the read the full election manifestos – you would only do that if you were paid to, or if your soundness of mind were in question – but I did scan a collection of media reports in search of any food safety-related pledges.
So what did I find? Almost nothing is the simple answer. The only political party that seems to have any specific policy for food safety is the less than mainstream and not entirely serious Monster Raving Loony Party. This states that, All food sold in fast food establishments should be clearly marked “May contain traces of real food” and All vegetables sold in supermarkets should be clearly marked “Strictly for oral use only.” This is fine as far as it goes, but I’m not sure it really addresses the problems presented by globalisation of food supply chains and emerging public health threats from imported foods. Nor does it tackle the effect of funding cuts on the agencies responsible for food safety. Sadly, I can find no evidence that any of the other parties fielding candidates at a national level have said anything about these issues either.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise given how little time during the campaign has been devoted to some of the most serious threats facing the UK, and indeed the world. For example, the environment and climate change have hardly been discussed at all – except by the Green Party – in the last six weeks as the major parties concentrate on issuing vague and unquantifiable statements about how everyone will be better off if only they would vote for us. These are policies only in the loosest sense of the word and usually involve stating aspirations that are impossible to argue with, such as “Higher living standards for working families” or “A good life for everyone willing to work for it.” Details of how such Utopian dreams are to be realised are notable by their absence. I cannot remember an election where voters have had so little concrete information to go on when making their choice at the polls.
But all that is beside the point. For me, the absence of any indication that our politicians have even thought about food safety is a worry in itself. It is likely that we will face a raft of new foodborne hazards in the years to come. The 2013 horsemeat in beef scandal is a sign that food fraud and adulteration could become more prevalent, and perhaps more dangerous. Then there are growing threats from natural toxins in crops and seafood as global warming gradually extends the range of the organisms that produce them. Continual pruning of the funding and staff needed to regularly inspect food businesses is another concern. Eventually, less enforcement activity will inevitably lead to more food poisoning outbreaks and contamination incidents, which we may not have the resources to respond to effectively. The election strategists may not think this stuff carries much weight in vote winning terms, but it would be nice to see it mentioned somewhere.