While support for the plan was almost overwhelming, some expressed frustration that calls to restore responsibility for food authenticity and safety to the Food Standards Agency had not been included into the final report. Here we chart reaction from key industry bodies to the report, which was published yesterday (September 4).
British Retail Consortium (BRC), director, food and sustainability Andrew Opie:
“The Elliott report makes a valuable contribution to strengthening supply chain controls – a fundamental issue for all retailers. We particularly welcome the recognition that this requires good co-ordination along the supply chain and with governments here and in Europe and that all parties must accept and meet their responsibilities.
“The retail sector has played its part by carrying out an extensive review of how we exchange intelligence, how we can tighten up testing and auditing and shorten our supply chains. The BRC itself has developed new key tools for auditing the supply chain that will strengthen controls and directly target food fraud.”
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), chief executive Graham Jukes:
“Our professional members work in business and all other sectors not just local government but local government plays a vital role in the cross-sectoral support required to address the issue highlighted by the Elliott Review and we do have concerns about the capacity to address this important issue.
“There is a clear need for specialist support in tackling food crime and the CIEH agrees with Professor Elliott’s recommendation that a national Food Crime Unit be established. The new National Environmental Health Board, chaired by Lord Rooker former chair of the FSA, working with the CIEH, can support coordinated action on the ground.”
CIEH principal policy officer, Jenny Morris:
“A key theme throughout the report is the need for professional collaboration and partnerships if criminals are to be defeated. This means sharing knowledge and skills and developing trust across sectors. Such a collaborative approach to addressing challenges underpins the recent development, by the CIEH, of the Institute of Food Safety, Integrity & Protection (IFSIP). Its objective is to build professional understanding and encourage innovative problem solving across public and private sectors.”
Morris is speaking at the Food Manufacture Group’s one-day Food safety conference at the Heritage Motor Museum, Gaydon, near Birmingham on Wednesday, October 15.
Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS), group ceo David Noble:
“We welcome professor Elliott’s report and the government’s commitment to implementing its recommendations following the UK’s horsemeat scandal. However it is frustrating that we seem to be continually tackling the outcomes of a flawed system rather than the root causes.
“The government’s response to the Elliott Review seems to be papering over the cracks of a broken system. The reforms seek only to catch abuse of our supply chains once the damage has been done and there are still no controls in place to ensure supply chain managers are professional, licensed or competent. Ensuring that we have the right people with the rights skills to manage and monitor the system is a crucial component of our response to criminality in the supply chain but this has once again been overlooked.
“At CIPS, we have been calling for a licence for procurement and supply chain professionals. Without it, we are going to see a re-run of supply chain mismanagement time and again. It is said that a sign of madness is doing the same thing over and over again but hoping for a different result. We must set a new course; one which protects workers, consumers and businesses alike.”
Countryside Alliance, executive chairman Barney White-Spunner:
“Consumer confidence alongside protection and support for our food producers is paramount. This report is good in that it seeks to ensure that consumers can make choices with confidence and protection to ensure the horsemeat scandal cannot happen again.
“The Countryside Alliance has long called for clear country of origin labelling on food containing meat to protect consumers but also to promote our hardworking farmers. We have some of the greatest food in the world and we will continue to promote British produce, adequately labelled, as a top choice for consumers.”
Dairy UK, chief executive Dr Judith Bryans:
“Dairy UK welcomes Professor Elliott’s recommendations and strongly supports measures to prevent fraud in the food industry. The dairy industry is committed to maintaining consumer confidence in wholesome and safe dairy products. Thanks to a short supply chain and exemplary traceability, the dairy industry is proud to be among the safest food sectors and strives to guarantee the highest standards of food safety and hygiene.
“Therefore, as a precautionary measure, Dairy UK has been working on a series of measures and schemes that meet and exceed the expectations outlined in Professor Elliott’s recommendations. In addition to a Risk Register of potential contamination and fraud issues in the UK dairy supply chain initiated last year, Dairy UK also leads a Due Diligence Scheme through which stringent tests are conducted on milk and dairy products in accredited laboratories. The dairy industry is also looking at additional opportunities to enhance collaboration with government agencies such as the FSA or the VMD [Veterinary Medicines Directorate].
“Dairy UK will make every effort to contribute to any other industry surveillance programmes and activities.”
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, secretary of state Elizabeth Truss:
“We’re taking action to make sure that families can have absolute confidence in the food that they buy. When a shopper picks something up from a supermarket shelf it should be exactly what it says on the label, and we’ll crack down on food fraudsters trying to con British consumers.
“As well as keeping up confidence here, we need to protect the great reputation of our food abroad. We’ve been opening up even more export markets, which will grow our economy, provide jobs, and support the government’s long-term economic plan.
“The action we’re taking gives more power to consumers – meaning they’ve got better labelling on food, better education about where their food comes from, and better, locally-sourced food in schools and hospitals.”
DWF, law firm, partner and head of retail food and hospitality Hilary Ross:
“Clearly local regulators, retailers and manufacturers are currently not equipped to deal with the level of organised fraud we are seeing within the food industry and these recommendations, particularly a nationally co-ordinated approach through the creation of the Food Crime Unit and Intelligence Hub, will at last bring the UK into line with much of the rest of Europe. For this reason I am sure the food industry will welcome today’s report and the government’s initial reaction to it.
“The ball is now firmly in the government’s court to fund and support these significant changes and while they have paid lip service to agreeing to the creation of a Food Crime Unit, the industry will be keeping a close eye on their next steps. For instance, Professor Elliott supports a two-phase approach to the creation of a Food Crime Unit, one for evidence gathering and business case development and the other to put in place the mechanisms required to investigate and take forward actions. The proposal for a phased approach is curious and indicates to me that there is still uncertainty about the business case for such a unit. Given that the initial set up of the unit is estimated to cost between £2–4M a year it is likely that the government will need to be utterly convinced of the business case before making such an investment.
“In our era of austerity I will also be interested to see if and how the government supports the report’s recommendations on improving laboratory services as only last week it was announced that the only publically run food testing centre in Wales was to close due to a lack of resources.
“The biggest question mark for the food industry is over how intelligence will be gathered for the proposed Intelligence Hub, which will involve the creation of a Safe Haven to collect and sanitise information from the industry through a confidential source register by an independent body. It is recommended that the cost of the organisation is funded by industry but that steps are taken to ensure that the information provided by contributors are subject to legal privilege. This clearly needs more thought as the proposed aims of the Safe Haven and the way of collecting information are not conducive to establishing legal privilege.”
Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chair Anne Mcintosh MP:
“I am pleased to see the final report from the Elliott review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks, commissioned in the aftermath of the horsemeat contamination last year.
“Many of Professor Elliott’s conclusions echo those made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in its two reports on Contamination of Beef Products and Food Contamination. In particular, both the committee and Professor Elliott raised concerns about the reduced capacity for testing in the UK and stressed the need for more public analysts to undertake such testing. The government must set out how it intends to deliver this.
“We also welcome the creation of a Food Crime Unit which should help to deter criminals from seeking to defraud consumers. The food and drink sector plays a crucial role in all of our lives and its integrity is of the utmost importance. Professor Elliott has kindly agreed to give oral evidence to the Committee this autumn when we will examine his report and the government’s response to it.”
Eversheds law firm, partner and food safety expert David Young:
“Having identified in the interim report the key challenges, the final report makes key recommendations under eight headings – the ‘eight pillars of food integrity’ – consumers first, zero tolerance, intelligence gathering, laboratory services, audit, Government support, leadership and crisis management.
“Many of these recommendations are around the capture of information and how it is shared to increase knowledge and transparency. None of them are unexpected in the sense that no new issues have emerged since the interim report. The most interesting and challenging recommendations are inevitably around intelligence gathering (the development of a ‘safe haven’ to do this), an overhaul of the largely self-regulating food industry audit regime to make it more focused and effective and a positive presumption that all food incidents are treated as a risk to public health until the contrary is proved. This last recommendation should raise the profile of the integrity of the UK food chain and keep it high.”
Food and Drink Federation (FDF):
“Any supply chain, no matter how simple or complex, can present risks that need to be adequately managed. FDF members have robust traceability and assurance systems in place, including risk registers, audits and testing, and as a result UK consumers have access to perhaps the safest food in the world.
“Professor Elliott’s report and recommendations provide a solid platform for government, enforcement bodies and industry to continue to improve mechanisms for sharing information that can help identify and tackle potential food fraud.
“Since the publication of Elliott’s interim report last December, we have revised and disseminated our free toolkit for producers, ‘Food Authenticity: Five steps to help protect your business from food fraud' to help food and drink manufacturers to manage supply chain risks and we have continued to engage with members, government and other trade associations on incident prevention and horizon scanning activities.”
Institute of Food Science & Technology, chief executive Jon Poole:
“It’s good to see this report finally published given its significance and the amount of industry input to the final version. The government is saying it fully supports the recommendations, so I really hope most of the recommendations do get taken forward. Clearly there are some sensitive areas to work through from a practical point of view. For example, gaining industry participation in a central intelligence resource will need considerable work if the participating stakeholders are going to be assured as to how this information will be collected and used.
“IFST still features in the report regarding Elliott’s proposal to bring together the work of the public analyst laboratories and hope we can use our independence and scientific knowledge to held inform the pros and cons of this approach.
“Food safety and food fraud prevention very much go hand in hand and we will be working to suppor the Elliott report by ensuring that food safety professionals are professionally recognised and their skills maintained.”
Labour, shadow food and farmer minister, Huw Irranca-Davies:
“[Prime minister] Cameron’s misguided decision to split up the FSA was wrong and should be reversed immediately.
“They [the government] do not get the importance of the food industry and the consumer aspect of food. If we were back in government, we would be putting food four-square at the centre of national policy.”
Moore Stephens, accountancy firm partner Duncan Swift:
“Whilst we don’t know the precise extent of food fraud, our experience provides evidence that it is a huge problem in the UK and Professor Elliott’s recommendations are welcome because they will help to drive up standards and cut the risk of it occurring.
“The problem is that the traceability and assurance procedures and anti-fraud resources necessary to reassure the public carry a substantial extra cost and are seen by many in government as additional red tape. The government will not want these costs to hit consumers so they will have to be absorbed by the food supply chain. And, with the supermarkets holding the whip hand in their relationship with suppliers, it’s the farmers and food suppliers and processors who are likely to be footing the bill.
“Food suppliers are already struggling with wafer thin profit margins, so any extra costs could trigger a wave of insolvencies. That would ultimately be bad news for consumers because it would reduce choice on the supermarket shelves and could even lead to higher prices because of less competition.
“Food suppliers and processors should look to get ahead of the game by improving and demonstrating their traceability and validation of all the products and ingredients they use. This will not only bring them into line with any new regulation that the government introduces in the wake of the Elliott report, it might also provide those early adopters with improved sales and profit margins, as consumers become increasingly concerned over the provenance of their foodstuffs and look for demonstrably assured products.”
National Farmers Union, president Meurig Raymond:
“We are pleased that the government is taking the horsemeat issue seriously in a bid to ensure that consumers can have 100% confidence that the meat they buy is exactly what it is supposed to be – and when they want to Back British Farming, they can.
“This scandal has underlined the importance of a short, traceable supply chain. British farmers are rightly proud of their products and NFU research shows that British people would like to buy more food produced in this country. It is right that action is being taken to ensure that meat labelled as British is British and has all the high standards associated with British farming.
“Although we approve of plans to set up a new system of authenticity, we await with interest on details as to how that will be implemented. We would not want added costs passed on to our farmers, who have not been implicated in any way during this scandal.
“In the meantime, we would urge consumers to look out for the Red Tractor logo to be absolutely sure of where their food comes from and of the standards it has been produced to.”
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), ceo Shirley Cramer:
“It is clear from this research that the public still have concerns about the scale of food fraud, but that the poorest in society may be disproportionately affected because they have fewer food choices. With many trapped buying cheap, processed food, which is the most likely to be adulterated, the poorest in society are relying on swift implementation of the recommendations within the Elliott Review to address concerns and provide reassurance.
“Based on a snapshot of RSPH members, who work within food safety, a number of measures were suggested to address food fraud. These included ensuring that those tasked with tackling food fraud from within the local authority have sufficient time and resources, and that the issue of food fraud is prioritised in the local authority environment. One way that this can be supported is through its inclusion in the local Food Safety strategy. Members also felt that there needs to be improvement to food testing, including sufficient budgets for food sampling and more investment in food analysis.
“Irrespective of income level, consumer concern about food fraud remains high, despite the interim Elliott Review acknowledging that lower income groups are at risk since a higher proportion of their income is spent on food, particularly processed foods, which are more susceptible to fraud.”
Roythornes solicitors, head of the food team Peter Bennett:
“The Elliot report highlights the need for government to appreciate the importance of supply chain integrity and how the consumer must have full confidence in it.
“The recommendations appear balanced and will not overburden producers. The governmental response needs to follow through and implement effective practices that will bring back some confidence in the food chain.
“It’s very interesting that Elliott is putting an onus on businesses to ask further questions if a deal is ‘too good to be true’. This is a note to food producers and manufacturers that despite the pressure on costs, they should not cut corners. An FSA hosted Food Crime Unit is a good idea, but it needs an appropriate level of financial backing and real power to make it work – a toothless dragon is not needed at this juncture. The unit will need to develop an international reach to tie in with the globalisation of supply chains and the resources to mount complex investigations, as over a dozen countries were involved in ‘horsegate’.”
Trading Standards Institute, operations and policy director Andy Foster:
“We are delighted the environment secretary has accepted Elliott's recommendations in full. It is a major step forward for the food industry which was rocked by the horsemeat scandal last year.
“While we look forward to working with the Food Standards Agency in implementing the measures we worry about what is happening at local level to trading standards officers who are responsible for ensuring food laws are followed and whose numbers have nearly halved since 2009.
“The development of a UK intelligence and investigative facility specifically focused on food crime is a very welcome move but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that responsibility for inspection and testing the food chain across the UK rests with local council officers. Unless something is done about restoring local enforcement capability then this could risk undermining the effectiveness of any national unit and the quality of the intelligence at thei
Unite, the union, national officer for food and agriculture Julia Long:
“The culture that encourages fraud, as described in professor Elliott’s report, affects the safety of the food we eat. But it also affects thousands of workers who produce that food, including many of our members. Illegal deduction of pay, serious breaches of health and safety, intimidation, and, in the most serious cases, trafficking and abuse run alongside the acts of fraud highlighted in the Elliot report - and they are fuelled by the same motive – profit at any cost.
“Can consumers trust products from food companies that abuse their workers in this way, and from retailers who audit fruit and veg more carefully than they audit workers’ rights? If the nation is serious about cleaning up its food system, then trade unions need to be at the centre of these efforts – and ministers need to ensure that sufficient resources are made available to underpin the new regulatory system with the food crime unit at its heart.”
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd:
“It is only right the government has accepted the Elliott Review findings and recognised that consumers must be put first if we are to restore trust in the food industry following the horsemeat scandal.
“It’s in the interests of responsible food businesses, as well as consumers, to make sure there are effective controls in place and a zero tolerance approach to food crime. We now want the government to quickly implement all of the recommendations so consumers can be confident in the food they buy.”