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Shadow minister slams retreat on Elliott Review’s FSA proposals

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Elliott has recommended the creation of a Food Crime Unit under the auspices of the FSA
Elliott has recommended the creation of a Food Crime Unit under the auspices of the FSA

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The government is facing criticism after calls to reunite responsibility for food authenticity and safety under the Food Standards Agency (FSA) were dropped in the final Elliott Review into the horsemeat scandal.

Shadow food and farming minister Huw Irranca-Davies told “[Prime Minister David] Cameron’s misguided decision to split up the FSA was wrong and should be reversed immediately.”

If food and farming minister Liz Truss was serious about her desire to implement the recommendations in the report to strengthen the FSA, she needed to do this, he said.

The proposal was present in December’s interim report from Chris Elliott, Professor of food safety and director of the Institute of Global Food Security at Queen’s University, Belfast.

‘Too politicised’

However, Elliott said he had dropped the recommendation in the final Elliott review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks​, published yesterday​ (September 4) because it had become “very politicised​”. In its place is a general call for a more robust FSA and a coordinated approach across all stakeholder groups.

The coalition government decided to shift responsibility for food authenticity and compositional labelling to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in 2010. The move was criticised in the National Audit Office’s (NAO’s) report Food safety and authenticity in the supply chain, ​published on October 10, 2013.

The NAO argued the division of responsibilities created needless confusion and added another layer of communication in the immediate aftermath of the scandal, making it harder to handle.

Irranca-Davies claimed the government’s attitude to the FSA betrayed a larger problem. “They 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.”

Refused to comment

The FSA refused to comment on the omission of the recommendation in Elliott’s interim review, issued in December 2013, that it should resume responsibility for food authenticity.

However, Elizabeth Andoh-Kesson, British Retail Consortium (BRC) food policy advisor, said she was less concerned about the precise nature of the FSA’s responsibilities.

“I’m not sure it needs to be in one dedicated department. The important thing is that it needs to be coordinated and that we have got a mechanism to detect any issue.” ​Both of these areas have been emphasised by Elliott.

The BRC has backed the review’s calls to create a Food Crime Unit under the auspices of the FSA to tackle food fraud and take a lead in these areas.

Andoh-Kesson said coordination of efforts to address the problem within Europe and further afield was vital and now needed continued focus. She said the European Commission was looking at strengthening penalties for food fraud. “The legislation should be agreed by the end of 2015​.” She also welcomed the establishment of an EU Food Fraud Unit.

Unannounced audits

Addressing the report’s calls for a more robust auditing system, she said considerable work had been done on that already. “There has been an increasing shift to unannounced audits and companies are introducing more as part of retailer supply audits.”

The BRC’s food standards were being revised, with an update due for publication in January, with greater scrutiny of food fraud issues, she added. The BRC was also working on a specific food fraud module for the industry, she said.

The BRC standards team was also looking into areas of duplication between BRC audits and retailers’ independent audits, with a view to harmonising them, said Andoh-Kesson.

In general, she welcomed what she saw as greater collaboration between DEFRA, the FSA and trade bodies, which had already been happening since Elliott’s interim Review.

Access an overview of the final review’s findings here​.

Full industry reaction to the report is available here​.

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