The interim conclusions of the report by Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for global security at Queen’s University Belfast, offered a range of suggestions about how best to defend the safety and authenticity of UK food supplies.
A key recommendation was: “A specialist ‘Food Crime Unit’, with the expertise to undertake investigations into serious food fraud, should be hosted by the Food Standards Agency [FSA].”
The food industry and government should work together to create ‘intelligence hubs’, to gather, analyse and disseminate information about food crime.
The review also recommended that the Food Authenticity Programme, which has the lead role for supporting research into food authenticity testing, and policy over compositional labelling, should return from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
Elliott urged the agency to ensure it had an up-to-date crisis management plan and to work more closely with DEFRA and Department of Health (DH) to ensure their respective roles are clear in the event of a major incident.
The report confirmed the UK has some of the world’s highest standards of food safety. But, in a global food industry, it was vital to ensure the UK’s high standards were maintained across the whole supply chain, it said.
“The horsemeat crisis clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain,” said Elliott. “And, while the next stage of my review will gather more evidence on this, it is right that measures are in place to further protect consumers. The food industry and the government are already striving to achieve this.”
Other recommendations included in the report were:
• All parties that operate and manage the food chain must put consumers first over all other aims.
• Industry should consider the prevention of food crime a primary objective.
• A project should be launched, led by the FSA and DH, to explore the feasibility of a shared public laboratory service for the food authenticity testing currently undertaken by public analysts in local authority-owned labs.
• The auditing of food businesses, by government and industry, particularly high risk premises, must be more focused on detecting fraud. Traders and brokers must be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.
DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson welcomed the report. “I am pleased that Professor Elliott’s interim review recognises that there are good systems in place to ensure UK consumers have access to some of the safest food in the world,” he said. “We want to keep it that way.”
Paterson added: “It is appalling that anyone was able to defraud the public by passing off horsemeat as beef. That is why I commissioned an urgent review into the integrity of our food network.”
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) agreed the report confirmed the safety of UK food. Melanie Leech, FDF director general, said: “It’s clear from the interim findings published today that UK consumers have access to perhaps the safest food in the world.
“Professor Elliott’s recommendations provide industry with a solid platform from which to build a joint strategy with government and enforcement bodies to combat food fraud.”
Elliott’s final report will be published next spring.
Read full industry reaction to the review here.