The power of three in Elliott’s interim report

By Clare Cheney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food standards agency Food safety Defra

Clare Cheney, director general, Provision Trade Federation
Clare Cheney, director general, Provision Trade Federation
Among the recommendations in the Elliott interim report on the horsemeat fiasco three stood out, not because they were necessarily the most important, but because they addressed issues that have long been matters of great concern to the industry. But it is a pity that it needed a report of this nature to provide an incentive for action.

One recommendation is that food labelling should be transferred from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) back to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). When the present government announced its intention to move some labelling from the FSA to DEFRA there were protests from stakeholders who saw at once that it was a nutty idea because of the adverse effect on communications, efficiency and coherent policies. It is a pity Elliott’s recommendation only applies to compositional labelling, not all other food labelling policies.


The Elliott report also recognised that the quality of auditing of food premises needed to be addressed. Again, this is not a new issue. Industry has long been concerned about the mis-match between the proliferation of audits and number of inspectors with the highest standards of qualifications and relevant experience.

For many years the food industry has cried out for a single standard system retailers and foodservice would accept. It was originally hoped the British Retail Consortium standard would fit this bill. Elliott calls for replacement of a surfeit of announced audits by fewer unannounced audits, saying this would reduce the burden because retailers would be more likely to sign up to a third-party unannounced system. If he is right, such a development is welcome. Few people could disagree that a system with fewer high-quality inspections are superior to a surfeit of lower-quality audits. It remains to be seen how retailers will respond.

‘Blindingly essential’

Another recommendation that the two secretaries of state for Department of Health (DH) and DEFRA should meet regularly with the FSA chair is blindingly essential, particularly in light of the sub-division of food-related issues. The term ‘farm to fork’ implies an umbrella embracing all food-related policies whether they be related to production, legislation under the Food Safety Act 1990 and all its ramifications, healthy diets, nutrition, and so on. The more these integral parts are spread out, the more likely are conflicts and unintended consequences. One area concerns DEFRA’s policy of encouraging farmers to produce more dairy and meat while DH policy discourages consumption without consulting DEFRA.

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