Consumer Priorities via FSA Insights Tracker
The Consumer Insights Tracker is the FSA’s monthly tracking survey that monitors changes in consumers’ behaviour and attitudes in relation to food.
Each month, the survey is conducted with approximately 2,000 adults (aged 16 or over) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who are signed up to YouGov’s online survey panel.
Key findings from September were published by the FSA on 10 October 2023.
In September 2023 when respondents were asked how concerned they felt about a range of food-related topics, the issues that were of concern to the highest number of respondents were:
- Food prices (90% concerned)
- Food poverty and food inequality (76% concerned)
- Ultra-processed, or the over-processing of, food (75% concerned)
- Animal welfare in the food industry (72% concerned)
- The ‘healthiness’ of people’s diets in general (71% concerned)
More findings from the Consumer Insights Tracker September 2023 are available on the FSA website.
Results will be published on a monthly basis going forward, with the October results expected to publish mid-November.
Confusion continues for the CBD Market
The Food Standards Agency has reduced the daily limit for CBD in new precautionary advice from 70mg to 10mg per day, citing potential long term risk to liver and thyroid issues
However, the recommendation is only advisory, and regulators are not requesting that any products are taken off shelves.
CBD is a chemical found naturally within the cannabis plant, it has only very recently been removed and sold as a separate CBD extract. CBD extracts can be found in a range of products such as oils, confectionery, bakery products and drinks.
CBD was classed by the FSA as a “novel” food, in January 2019 and all CBD food products were required to apply for authorisation before they could be sold legally in Great Britain. Novel foods are foods and/or ingredients that were not consumed to a significant degree by humans in the UK or EU before 15 May 1997. This action left a growing market without clear guidance on its approach to enforcement and led to significant confusion for operators in the CBD.
In February 2020 (and refined further in March 2021), the FSA confirmed the basis of eligibility to avail of the ‘existing product on the market’ exception. This was where CBD products already on the market in England and Wales would be permitted to remain there, pending full scientific assessment by the FSA and receipt of full authorisation from a novel foods’ perspective. Eligibility for this exception required proof of being on the market as of 13 February 2020 and receipt by the FSA of an application (prior to 31 March 2021), which is subsequently validated.
This exception re the ‘novel food’ product marketed prior to 13 February 2020 was confirmed to relate to the entire finished product (food + CBD) rather than solely the CBD component contained therein ie a food product such as a confectionary snack not sold prior to 13 February 2020 would not be permitted use of the fast-track and would need to await full authorisation before being sold on the market. This was even if it contained a CBD component which had been used on the market prior to 13 February 2020 and after that date.
All products awaiting authorisation, which have a credible application in with the FSA, can be viewed on the FSA's public list of CBD products . There are currently no specifically authorised CBD extracts or isolates on the market. Manufacturers and suppliers of products on this public list may continue to produce and sell their products to the public while the FSA undertakes a full assessment as part of the authorisation process.
The list is split into two sections that are made up of products associated with applications which either:
- have been validated
- are on hold ‘awaiting evidence’, whereby applicants have yet to supply all the information needed to continue on in the process
Validation is the first stage of the novel foods process. Validation does not mean that these products are authorised novel foods and confirmed as safe for consumption, only that businesses have provided the FSA with adequate information to progress their application.
The FSA makes clear it cannot endorse the safety of such products until such time that it has completed its assessment. Nor is there any guarantee that following their assessment, they will be authorised. Consumers are therefore advised to refer to the list of products, but to also exercise their judgement bearing in mind that their safety has not yet been assessed.
In relation to the latest updated guidance the FSA said there was “no acute safety risk” with consuming more than 10mg of CBD a day based on the data it had assessed. However above this level, and over a period of time, “there is evidence of some adverse impacts on the liver and thyroid”.
The FSA continues to advise that CBD is not taken by people in vulnerable groups, including children, people taking medication (who have not consulted a medical professional) and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those trying to conceive.
The updated advice has been based on the average lifetime exposure to food products containing CBD, such as drinks, oils, sweets, bakery items or drops.
Holland & Barrett removed CBD products from sale where “customers cannot choose to only use 10mg a day” following the FSA’s decision to slash its recommended daily maximum dosage of the product. The health food retailer said the temporary measure had been made “in an abundance of caution” .
“Whilst it remains legal for these products to remain on sale, we are acting in an abundance of caution and are temporarily withdrawing some products where customers cannot choose to only use 10mg a day.
“This is a temporary measure so we can make sure we are giving our customers the latest guidance across our website product descriptions, and to make sure our colleagues have received revised training to be able to answer customer questions on this.
In total, 31 products have been removed from sale online and in store, Holland & Barrett said.
Other retailers including Tesco and Waitrose referred to the British Retail Consortium, which said its members would ”follow any and all FSA advice on the sale of products containing CBD oil, and take their obligations around these products very seriously”.
The removal of legally marketed products by retailers on the back of ‘guidance’ provided by the FSA should be of concern to all food producers. Whilst guidance on diets and health should be used to inform the consumer the restriction of products legally placed on the market is a worrying trend and it is hoped that this ‘temporary’ removal is reversed by retailers.
FSA to launch a food fraud hotline
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been working with food industry partners and has announced a set of plans proposed by the Food Fraud Working Group to strengthen food safety in the UK. Amid the proposals it launching a free hotline for people to report food fraud and food crime concerns.
The stakeholder message outlines proposals (Opens in a new window) to strengthen the collective response to food crime:
- launching a new freephone number for the food fraud hotline to make it easier for people to speak up and share their concerns;
- working with industry on ways to encourage food fraud whistleblowing ;
- strengthening information sharing arrangements between the third-party auditors used by food businesses, and the FSA, to help prevent criminal activity;
- improving how the FSA issues intelligence-based alerts to better warn food businesses about potential food fraud in supply chains.
Food Crime Confidential is available on food.gov.uk or by phoning 0800 028 1180 (0207 276 8787 for non-UK mobiles and calls).
Processes alert - Recall Implemented
Moonshine’s Products Ltd have issued a recall for several products because of temperature control breaches, microbiological contamination risks and other potential food safety risks as a result of unsafe production procedures, which make these products unsafe to eat and means they could potentially cause serious illness or death if consumed. Moonshine’s Products Ltd recalls several products because of concerns over food safety | Food Standards Agency
This is an interesting recall as it is linked directly to processes and hygiene controls within the production facility. Food businesses should regularly risk assess and review their processes continually seeking to reduce risk to as low as reasonably practicable. Full checks of machinery and hgyiene should be maintained and recorded.
SOP-INC-03A FSA English Language PRIN template_Jan19
New Red Tractor accreditation
Red Tractor has created a new, retailer-backed, environment-focused accreditation framework.
The Greener Farms Commitment module, which will be available from 1 April, will offer farmers, processors, and packers one set of common environmental criteria. It will sit outside and operate separately to Red Tractor’s core standards, with its own distinct label.
The new framework has secured the support of supermarkets including Tesco, Sainsbury’s Morrisons and M&S Food, in addition to the BRC.
It is reported the module would enable farmers to make commitments and track their own progress across 5 key areas for environmentally focused farming: carbon footprinting; soil management; nutrient management; waste management; and biodiversity.
Additionally, it would recognise other programmes such as Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive and other devolved government schemes.
However, Red Tractor and its retail partners have been criticised over how the scheme has been communicated, and how it could potentially drive through environmental improvements at significant cost to farmers and food producers but with no premium.
Also although the aim has been simplification with the creation of a “baseline” environmental standard there are other audits such as Leaf audit which may therefore entail duplication and additional cost.
However Red Tractor’s Jim Moseley has responded the GFC is designed to protect farmers from future audit demands, costs and complexity.
The heat is on for environmental claims from the CMA
Investigation into boiler company over ‘green’ claims - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
The competition watchdog is to investigate boiler brand Worcester Bosch over whether it misled shoppers with confusing or inaccurate green claims.
The CMA’s investigation will look at several marketing practices including the use of:
- Labels or text stating that Worcester Bosch’s boilers can run on a blend of 20% hydrogen and natural gas, which may give the impression this is a special feature despite all boilers in the UK being legally required to operate this way since the mid-1990s.
- Information and messaging on the use of hydrogen for home heating in the UK – despite this not currently being available and its introduction being potentially years away and dependent on future government decisions.
- Descriptions and information about the environmental benefits of ‘hydrogen-blend ready’ boilers which may falsely suggest that these boilers will reduce a household’s carbon footprint.
This action comes as part of the CMA’s wider work looking at consumer protection issues in the green heating and insulation sector.
Worcester Bosch said: “We are in receipt of notice of investigation from the CMA and are assisting them in full with provision of information as requested.”
This is a timely reminder to follow the CMA’s 6 principles that environmental claims should follow that are also incorporated into guidance by the ASA Advertising Guidance - misleading environmental claims and social responsibility - ASA | CAP.
- must be truthful and accurate: Businesses must live up to the claims they make about their products, services, brands and activities
- must be clear and unambiguous: The meaning that a consumer is likely to take from a product’s messaging and the credentials of that product should match
- must not omit or hide important information: Claims must not prevent someone from making an informed choice because of the information they leave out
- must only make fair and meaningful comparisons: Any products compared should meet the same needs or be intended for the same purpose
- must consider the full life cycle of the product: When making claims, businesses must consider the total impact of a product or service. Claims can be misleading where they don’t reflect the overall impact or where they focus on one aspect of it but not another
- must be substantiated: Businesses should be able to back up their claims with robust, credible and up to date evidence
Green claims code: making environmental claims - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
The key piece of consumer protection legislation relevant to the CMA’s guidance is the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs). The CPRs contain a general prohibition against unfair commercial practices and specific prohibitions against misleading actions or misleading omissions.
Food Supply, Food Security & Civil Unrest
Vulnerabilities in the food supply chain and the risk of civil unrest arising from food shortages has been examined by researchers from the University of York and Anglia Ruskin University, and is published in the journal Sustainability.
In the study, civil unrest is classified as over 30,000 people in the UK suffering violent injury in one year through events such as demonstrations and violent looting.
Likelihood of civil unrest
The study queried 58 experts within the food sector a variety of questions on food supply and security. Just over 40% of the food experts surveyed believe that civil unrest in the UK in the next 10 years was either possible (38%) or more likely than not (3%). Over the next 50 years, this increased to nearly 80% of experts believing civil unrest was either possible (45%), more likely than not (24%), or very likely (10%).
80% of respondents believe logistical distribution issues leading to shortages are the most likely food-related cause of civil unrest in the next 10 years. But, considered over a 50-year horizon, they said catastrophic failure resulting in insufficient food to feed the UK population, rather than distribution problems, would be the most likely cause.
Reasons behind potential food shortages
The respondents felt that a combination of factors – including ecological collapse, trade restrictions, a financial crash, rogue AI, a new pandemic, and animal or plant pathogens – would combine to be the most likely cause(s) of food shortages.
Professor Sarah Bridle, Chair of Food, Climate and Society at the University of York, said: ““Covid-19, Brexit and the cost of living crisis have shown the UK is already exposed to certain risks. The food system faces significant challenges. We are experiencing an increasing number of extreme weather events, many driven by climate change. It is entirely possible that in the coming decades extreme weather will cause major crop yield failures across multiple breadbaskets. We need a food system designed not just for optimal efficiency, but also for resilience.”
Professor Aled Jones, Director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, and also lead author, said: “By mapping out the potential risks, and their possible causes, we hope this report will assist with the preparations needed to avoid a UK food system catastrophe”.
Risk Assess the Supply Chain
It is important for businesses to consider risks to the supply chain for suppliers and customers and their own processes in order to build in resilience and support prevention, preparedness, response and recovery planning.
Our own Mills & Reeve seminar on the food supply chain from both a commercial and regulatory planning perspective is on Tuesday 7 November.