Elliott spearheads one of five food fraud projects

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Elliott: 'Consumers are losing trust in the safety and quality of what they purchase'
Elliott: 'Consumers are losing trust in the safety and quality of what they purchase'

Related tags Global food security Food

A £500,000 food fraud probe is being launched by scientists at Queen’s University Belfast, spearheaded by Professor Chris Elliott, author of the forthcoming review into the handling of the horsemeat scandal.

The two-year project will investigate food supply chain vulnerabilities and how to improve consumer trust in food and its producers.

Queen’s won one of five grants from the ‘Understanding the Challenges of the Food System’ call by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), under the Global Food Security programme.

Elliott and Dr Moira Dean from the Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security will collaborate with the School of Law & Institute for Study of Conflict Transformation and Michigan State University’s Dr John Spink.

The team will also probe potential business impacts from fraudulent practice, the impact of food fraud on the consumer and how food fraud prevention strategies can improve consumer trust.

‘Growing criminal activity’

“There are a growing number of reports of fraud and criminal activity in global food supply systems,”​ said Elliott, professor of food safety and director of the Institute of Global Food Security at Queen’s.

“Consumers are losing trust in the safety and quality of what they purchase. This Queen’s University led study will play a very important role in ascertaining where the major vulnerabilities are and how best to deal with them.

The project will explore how other countries handle food safety issues, analyse legal cases relating to fraud and examine models of data collection and intelligence sharing to test their vulnerabilities to future fraudulent attacks.

Elliott told FoodManufacture.co.uk last week he hoped the government would publish his final report on the handling of the horsemeat crisis soon after the House of Commons reconvenes on September 1 after summer recess​.

The interim report was published in December last year​ and contained recommendations such as the creation of a UK food crime unit and an FSA crisis management plan.

Social media

The ESRC revealed four other food fraud projects funded under the Global Food Security programme.

For one of these projects, Cardiff University’s Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS) researchers aim to discover public perceptions of the horsemeat scandal by analysing social media data.

The study, led by Caireen Roberts, senior nutritionist at NatCen Social Research, will investigate how increasing food supply chain complexity can cause fresh risks and concerns.

Aside from Roberts, the other researchers are: Dr Luke Sloan and Dr Matthew Williams, of Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Dr Pete Burnap, of the Cardiff School of Computer Science and Informatics, Professor Elizabeth Dowler, of the University of Warwick, and Dr Alizon Draper of the University of Westminster.

Burnap said: “We have collected data from public Twitter accounts since 2012 and our database of more than 3bn tweets will allow us to trace the unfolding of the horsemeat scandal … 

‘Engagement with public’

“This study will enhance understanding of the potential of social media analysis to both access public perceptions and how these evolve and to establish how social media analysis can be used in risk governance and engagement with the public about risks more generally.”

The other projects include an initiative led by Dr Andrew Donaldson, senior lecturer in planning at Newcastle University, examining how the food industry and agencies policing it anticipate and tackle supply chain problems.

Another, led by John Spencer, director of the Criminal Justice Research Unit at Manchester University, aims to develop predictive computer modelling to pinpoint where food fraud can occur in the supply chain.

A fifth project, steered by Dr Wendy Mills of the University of Hertfordshire, will consider older people’s perceptions and experiences of food supply chain strengths and vulnerabilities.

Food safety conference

The Food Manufacture group is holding a one-day food safety conference – ‘Safe and legal food in a changing world’​ – focusing on emerging food safety issues and changes to regulations.

The day will be divided into four sessions: Tomorrow's food safety risks; Managing the supply chain; Keeping food safe; and Novel processes and packaging.

It will take place on October 15 at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire.

To book your place at the conference, click here. 

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