Growing concern about potential contamination, extortion and fraud across the EU, following last year’s horsemeat contamination scandals, could see much stiffer fines for those found in breach of the EU’s Animal and Health Package, which is scheduled to come into force in 2016, said Neil Griffiths, director of the Society of Food Hygiene and Technology.
Compared with the impact of the new legislation from Brussels, Professor Chris Elliott’s review into ‘horsegate’ was a “side issue”, remarked Griffiths at last month’s Food Manufacture Group food safety conference: Safe and legal food in a changing world.
Increased financial sanctions
“It’s interesting that [The European Commission is] looking to improve enforcement as well as providing increased financial sanctions on fraudsters to dissuasive amounts. The retailers are obviously at the front end of that,” said Griffiths, who is also chief executive of advisory and testing specialist Service and Value Assured (SVA). Among its various activities, SVA works closely with major retailers and their suppliers on brand protection issues.
“The principles of brand protection [in the UK] are very much centralised on the development of systems and procedures, which would prevent a criminal challenge,” he added.
This due diligence defence is not as widely recognised across the rest of the EU, he noted. And under The Animal and Health Package legislation, retailers together with their senior managers and directors could, if convicted, find themselves liable to huge penalties.
“If you show neglect, consent or connivance, you are also open to these criminal prosecutions,” warned Griffiths. “Now if you are running a big company, like a major retailer with thousands and thousands of products, you sit on the top of the pyramid.”
Retailers were worried about what might be defined as fraud in the future and the potentially swingeing penalties on their brands and senior staff this might entail, said Griffiths.
As a result, supermarkets would be looking to protect themselves further against damage and this would have a big impact on their suppliers in terms of things such as audits, product testing and consumer complaint monitoring.
“The truth of the matter is that at the moment the industry still isn’t fully prepared to gather all that information to do what is needed in the future. That’s a big issue,” said Griffiths. “If you interpret fraud as false representation, failure to disclose information and by abuse of position, that’s a wide extent of what fraud can be.”
He used the example of incidents of mislabelling of meat content in foods, which might attract fines for the full cost of shortfalls going back several years.
The conference was sponsored by: ACO Building Drainage, Activate Lubricants, AON, Detectamet, FFP Packaging Solutions, the Food Advanced Training Partnership and the Institute of Food Research.
To get a flavour of the wide range of subjects – from the changing regulatory environment to risk management – covered at last month’s Food Manufacture Group Food safety conference, view our gallery of the top quotes from the day’s speakers.