A hotline has been launched to help combat a multimillion-pound food crime problem in the wake of the horse meat scandal.
Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has teamed up with the charity Crimestoppers to create the free Scottish Food Crime Hotline. Food crime is the deliberate manipulation, substitution, mislabelling or fraud in relation to food.
The new service will aid the FSS’s Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit, established after the discovery in 2013 that horsemeat was being passed off as beef in frozen foods.
Along with other agencies, the unit gathers intelligence to target food fraudsters, who cost the UK food and drinks industry an estimated £1.17 billion a year.
People will be able to report information anonymously on a 24-hour hotline number, 0800 028 7926. They can also report their concerns using a non-traceable online form.
Geoff Ogle, FSS chief executive, said: “Consumers have a right to know that the food they are buying and eating is both safe and authentic. Food crime is damaging for the public and the industry, eroding trust and value.
“The launch of the free Scottish Food Crime Hotline is one of a number of steps FSS is taking to address the problem in Scotland.
“We hope it will raise awareness of the issue of food crime and give consumers a trusted point of contact.” He said reports would be dealt with in confidence.
“The intelligence we receive will be invaluable in advancing our work with Police Scotland and other agencies to hold to account those who put consumer safety at risk for financial gain.”
Aileen Campbell, the public health minister, said: “This initiative is a practical and powerful way to tackle the problem of food crime. I would encourage both consumers and industry to make use of the hotline or online reporting form to anonymously share any concerns and help us stamp out fraudulent practices.”
Alex Neill, director of policy and campaigns for Which?, the consumer organisation, said its research had identified food fraud ranging from fish and chip shops substituting whiting for haddock to takeaways serving lamb dishes that did not contain lamb.
He said: “The horsemeat scandal uncovered shocking failings. We welcome the launch of this hotline, which should help FSS gather intelligence about fraudulent practices and allow them to tackle these crimes so people can be more confident in the food they eat.”