Choc-coated insect sales challenge Trading Standards
Call to beef up e-commerce consumer protection
Sales of food over the Internet have being described as an "enforcement nightmare" by Trading Standards officers, whose job it is to look after consumer rights in the UK.
Early work conducted by Staffordshire County Council Trading Standards, discovered such luxuries as 'chocolate-coated insects' and 'cricket lick-it' lollipops to be easily purchasable on the Internet.
'Cricket Lick-It' lollipops contain a complete insect inside the sweet, a blatant flouting of health and safety regulations.
Stephen Butterworth, Trading Standards Lead Officer for Food Safety, said: "Crunching crickets is not the issue. We have strict food laws in this country for obvious reasons. But, no matter how effective checks are at ports, airports and in the market place, you simply cannot control the purchase of some very weird foods over the Internet."
Protecting the physical health of ecommerce punters, as well as making sure they're free from online scams, is among the reasons the Trading Standard Institute is calling for more regulatory resources and better training.
As previously reported, at its annual conference in Cardiff this week the Institute has called for the creation of a national post charged with co-ordinating the transition to egovernment and establishing the Trading Standards Internet enforcement and regulatory role. This would be a single additional post geared to tying together what has been up until now the piecemeal efforts trading standards units have been able to apply to Internet trade.
The call comes at a time when the Institute admits that trading standards officers have "fallen slightly behind the times" and lack the expertise needed to regulate ecommerce.
Richard Webb, the Trading Standard Institute spokesman for ecommerce, said it was not calling for the kind of resources lavished on the police's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit.
The National Hi-Tech Crime Unit has been "swomped" with reports of cybercrime from business and has therefore concentrated on high level crime, said Webb, who said matters such as non-delivery of goods or problems with bogus sites could be a gap in consumer protection.
He said trading standards could effectively tackle such problems and collate information from the public on more serious offences which it could then pass to the police. Trading standards groups had a responsibility to be more effective in fulfilling this role, he added. ®
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