At a House of Commons backbench food fraud debate on September 8, following last week’s publication of the Elliott Review, Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiveton and Honiton, said: “I rather fear that a few small operators may have been singled out for what happened, and that there are some very big guys out there who have never been thoroughly investigated.”
Roger Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Brecon & Radnorshire, responded: “There have been a number of arrests, but on a very small scale.
“Certainly the prime operator in the crime has not been identified and brought to book. It is important for there to be a police involvement, but it is also important for there to be an international police involvement.”
He claimed processors and retailers should play a big role in tracing adulterated products back to their source and said they should be suspicious of deals that were too cheap.
‘Price is the driver’
“As has already been pointed out, price is the driver of food crime, and as Professor Elliott said in his report, if major retailers or processors have a deal that is too good to be true, they should trace it to its source.
“Both processors and retailers have a real responsibility in that regard. It is no good saying that they have not the facilities or the wherewithal; they have the ultimate responsibility.”
His comments coincided with the latest research from consumer watchdog Which? Out of a poll of 2,106 adults conducted by Populus for Which? from September 5-7, seven in 10 (69%) said they thought more action was needed to reduce food fraud in the UK.
Almost a quarter said they had changed the type of meat products they bought in the past year because they were worried about food fraud.
A total of 55% were worried a similar incident would happen again and 32% were not confident that the food they bought contained exactly what was stated on the ingredients list.
Lack of prosecutions
Williams acknowledged that the 2013 horsemeat food fraud scandal, in which a range of products labelled as beef were found to contain horse, had resulted in a lack of prosecutions.
Anne McIntosh, chairwoman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee, said: “This was a multi-million-pound business and, as Professor Elliott concluded, these events crossed 26 out of 28 EU member states, which is why it is so important that we must find out where the adulteration took place.
“Perhaps we will never know that, but if we do not, how can we say to consumers, in all honesty, that we can prevent it from happening again?”
She welcomed food and farming minister Elizabeth Truss’s statement that she would like to see a UK food crime unit set before 2015 to help tackle food fraudsters, as the Elliott Review recommended.
Food safety conference
The Food Manufacture Group is holding a one-day conference, Safe and legal food in a changing world, to equip workers including technical and regulatory personnel with the latest information to help prevent food safety incidents.
The event will be held at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon, in Warwickshire, on Wednesday October 15. Speakers from Bernard Matthews, the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health are taking part.
To book a place, click here or contact Alex Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on: 01293 610431.