Speaking at the FoodVision conference held in Cannes in France recently, David Croft, Waitrose director of food technology, said it was necessary to adapt to the way commodities were now traded around the world and the complexity of supply chains if fraud was to be detected before it became a crisis.
“As that [complex supply chain] network has become more apparent, have the controls that we use developed alongside it?” Croft asked. With complex supply chains, it was even more important for retailers to work closely with their suppliers to manage risks, said Croft. But he also argued for supply chains to be shortened to reduce the opportunities for fraud.
How responsibility was assigned for policing investigations into fraud, had yet to be decided, he said. In particular, the decision about dividing responsibility and funding of this work between the public sector and the food industry had yet to be fully hammered out, he added.
In Professor Chris Elliott's interim report into the horsemeat scandal, released last December, he argued for a Food Crime Unit (FCU) to be set up within the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to take the lead in such investigations. But the FSA’s board had raised concerns about the FSA’s ability to resource such a policing role.
Elliott, who is the director of the Global Institute for Food Security at Queen’s University, Belfast, is expected to publish his final report in mid-June. Once that happens and the government and FSA give their formal responses, questions about resourcing of the FCU should become clearer.
Pressure and prices
Rising meat prices and the pressure on suppliers to cut costs was another reason fraud had become more prevalent, Croft said: “The drive by every stakeholder to make a reasonable working margin creates pressure on primary producers from retailers and manufacturers to produce things ever more cheaply. Those pressures create an opportunity for people who want to make a fast buck; substituting an expensive ingredient with a cheaper one … what is clear is that price matters.”
He argued that “forensic auditing” should be used far more to identify examples of fraud. “That’s a new set of skills for the food industry,” he said.