According to a report by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the food industry has seen a significant increase in consumer demand for free-range meat over the past few years, as consumers become increasingly aware of the benefits of pasture-reared livestock. The report notes that 39% of consumers in the UK are willing to pay more for free-range meat, with 50% of those aged 25-34 willing to pay a premium. Additionally, there is a growing awareness among consumers about the link between animal feed and deforestation, with 60% of consumers stating they would be willing to pay more for meat that is produced sustainably.

The benefits of traceability in the food supply chain could help producers meet growing consumer demand for sustainable and high-quality meat products. As consumers appear open to pay a premium for well-sourced, sustainable food products, suppliers willing to invest in strengthening their supply chains and developing robust traceability systems can mitigate some effects of soaring input costs. Furthermore, traceability systems can help to reduce food waste and improve overall sustainability by enabling more efficient management of inventory and reducing the likelihood of overproduction.

The price of getting it wrong is severe. The National Food Crime Unit (“NFCU”) is a law enforcement function of the Food Standards Agency (“FSA”) and works to prevent, detect and investigate food crime across the UK, including illegal processing and misrepresentation. In a recent news story the NFCU has confirmed their investigation into potential food fraud as a supplier of Booths, which prides itself on selling on British meat, provided beef with a false British label, harkening back to the 2013 controversy of contamination of meat products with horsemeat.

Traceability systems allow for the identification of the origin of food products, the monitoring of food handling and processing and the tracking of product distribution. This, in turn, helps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks, allows for quick and effective product recalls, and promotes transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain, thus improving consumer trust.

The General Food Law Regulation (Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002) (“the Regulations”) as incorporated into UK law through the Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 requires undertakings involved with any stage of production, processing and distribution to ensure traceability of food from primary production to the final consumer.

To meet these requirements, food business operators (“FBOs”), being the persons responsible for ensuring that the requirements of food law are met within the food business under their control, must be able to identify any person from whom they have been supplied with a food, a food-producing animal, or any substance intended to be, or expected to be, incorporated into a food. FBOs must have systems and procedures in place which allow for this information to be made available to the FSA as the competent authority.

Further, FBOs must have in place systems and procedures to identify the other businesses to which their products have been supplied, and this information must be made available to the FSA.

Food which is placed on the market or is likely to be placed on the market must be adequately labelled or identified to facilitate its traceability through relevant documentation or information in accordance with any relevant requirements of more specific provisions.

In what is known as the one step back and one step forward mechanism, FBOs must have the ability to track both the foods they receive and the foods they supply. This includes the capability to trace the ingredients utilised in manufacturing end products when necessary.

As such, it is not enough for FBOs to ensure their compliance with the Regulations. It is strongly advised that FBOs verify that their suppliers have efficient systems and protocols for traceability as well.

Internally, FBOs should consider the FSA’s guidance on best practice in developing food traceability systems. To ensure you can track raw materials and ingredients from the supply chain to the finished product, the FSA recommend:

  • assigning a unique batch code identifier to all packs of a particular batch, recording production and quality information, and linking the batch code to all raw materials used in its production;
  • maintaining traceability information for the shelf life of the food plus 12 months as a minimum; and
  • an annual review of traceability systems, or sooner if there is a significant change within the business, such as a change of supplier.

If you are looking to ensure effective traceability in compliance with the Regulations to reduce the risks of food fraud and appeal to an ever-increasing ethically and environmentally conscious consumer base, please do not hesitate to contact Jamie Cartwright or Charlotte Healy in our Commercial Dispute Resolution team.