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Food Crime Unit still key to Prof Elliott’s horsemeat report

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

A new Food Crime Unit remains at the heart of Prof Elliott's recommendations
A new Food Crime Unit remains at the heart of Prof Elliott's recommendations

Related tags Food crime Food Food standards agency

A new Food Crime Unit remains at the heart of Professor Chris Elliott’s eight-point plan to combat fraud set out in his final report into the integrity of food supply chains published yesterday (September 4).

The long-awaited report confirmed Elliott’s preliminary findings that a new Food Crime Unit was urgently needed to “protect our food industry and consumers from criminal activity, and support better links with food crime agencies across the EU and beyond”. ​See the full eight-point plan at the end of this article.

Food supply systems

Elliott said:“I believe the creation of the national food crime prevention framework will ensure measures are put in place to further help protect consumers from any food fraud incidents in the future.”​ The UK had one of the safest food supply systems in the world, he added, while praising action by the government and the food industry to address the recommendations of his interim report.

But the final report is expected to disappoint those – such as consumer pressure group Which? – that have long urged government to restore full responsiblity for food compositonal labelling and authenticity to the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Welcoming the publication of the interim report​ in December 2013, Which?’s executive director Richard Lloyd said he wanted to see “the responsibilities for food labelling and standards move back to the Food Standards Agency to tackle the web of confusion exposed by the horsemeat scandal” .

‘Web of confusion’

Publication of the final report had been expected before the House of Commons recess on July 22. But prime minister David Cameron’s July cabinet reshuffle is thought to have delayed its publication​ until now. In May Elliott said a senior civil servant had warned him the government wanted to bury his report​ because its conclusions were so hard-hitting. 

The interim report, published in December 2013 contained 48 recommendations – including calls for a beefed up FSA – to combat food fraudsters.

The government commissioned Elliott, professor of food safety and director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, to probe the integrity of food supply networks in June 2013 in the aftermath of the horsemeat crisis.

Meanwhile, shadow food and farming minister Huw Irranca-Davies slammed the government after calls to restore full responsibility for food authenticity and safety​ to the FSA were dropped from the final report. Full industry reaction to the report is available here​.


Elliott recommendations:  

1 Consumers first​: Government should ensure the needs of consumers in relation to food safety and food crime prevention receive top priority. The government should work with industry and regulators to: maintain consumer confidence in food; prevent contamination, adulteration and false claims about food and implement an annual targeted testing programme, based on horizon scanning and intelligence, data collection and well-structured surveys.

2 Zero tolerance​: Where food fraud or food crime is concerned, even minor dishonesty must be discouraged and the response to major dishonesty deliberately punitive. The government should encourage the food industry to ask searching questions about whether certain deals are too good to be true; encourage industry to conduct sampling, testing and supervision of food supplies at all stages of the food supply chain and provide guidance on public sector procurement contracts.

3 Intelligence gathering​: There needs to be a shared focus by government and industry on intelligence gathering and sharing. The government should work with the FSA and regulators to collect, analyse and distribute information and intelligence.

4 Laboratory services​: Those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement must have access to resilient, sustainable laboratory services that use standardised, validated approaches. The government should standardise the approaches used by the laboratory community testing for food authenticity and develop centres of excellence for standardising authenticity testing.

5 Audit​: The value of audit and assurance regimes must be recognised in identifying the risk of food crime in supply chains. The government should support industry development of a modular approach to auditing with specific retailer modules underpinned by a core food safety and integrity audit to agreed standards and criteria.

6 Government support​: Government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks should be kept specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. The government should support the FSA’s strategic and co-ordinated approach to food law enforcement delivery, guidance and training of local authority enforcement officers. It should also regularly engage with the FSA at a senior level through the creation of a National Food Safety and Food Crime Committee.

7 Leadership​: There is a need for clear leadership and co-ordination of effective investigations and prosecutions relating to food fraud and food crime; the public interest must be recognised by active enforcement and significant penalties for serious food crimes. The government should ensure that food crime is included in the work of the Government Agency Intelligence Network and involves the FSA as the lead agency for food crime investigation.

8 Crisis management​: Mechanisms must be in place to deal effectively with any serious food safety and/or food crime incident. The government should ensure that all incidents are regarded as a risk to public health until there is evidence to the contrary and urge the FSA to discuss with the Cabinet Office in its role as co-ordinating body for the Cabinet Office Briefing Room in the planning and organisation of responses to incidents.

Read the final report here​.

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