Safe havens to protect food fraud whistleblowers

By Rick Pendrous contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food crime, Food

Safe havens for food supply chain whistleblowers are on the way
Safe havens for food supply chain whistleblowers are on the way
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) is working closely with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to create a system of ‘safe havens’ for whistleblowers and others who disclose cases of fraud in the food supply chain, it emerged last week.

The news emerged during the FSA’s Board meeting in Cardiff during discussions related to progress on implementing the 75 recommendations for the FSA from various reviews – including that by Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety and Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University, Belfast – conducted in the wake of the 2013 horsemeat contamination scandals.

Elliott report’s defines 'safe havens', as a safe forum in which information and intelligence can be shared and market sensitive disclosures protected.

As well as Elliott’s recommendations, progress from two other reviews, one by Professor Pat Troop in June 2013 on the FSA’s response to the incident and the other by Professor Jim Scudamore for the Scottish Government, was also discussed.

Safe havens

The FDF is among 10 trade associations, including the British Retail Consortium and IGD grocery think tank, that have collaborated with the FSA on Elliott’s recommendation about the setting up industry ‘safe havens’ to provide a method for whistleblowers to share emerging risk data and intelligence while protecting the identity of the source. The idea is that this will ensure better intelligence sharing between the food industry and government, the Board was informed.

“The FDF is showing exemplary leadership in bringing forward ideas for sharing intelligence and information,”​ said FSA director of policy Steve Wearne, as he described improvements that the FSA had made in gathering intelligence about fraud since 2013.

The FSA has held recent meetings with the FDF and IGD to explore the mechanisms of setting up safe havens. A further meeting with ministers within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is planned for this month to discuss ways of taking the idea forward.

“Ensuring the safety and authenticity of our products is a shared priority which unites businesses in our sector and we are committed to open dialogue with regulators and other food chain bodies on incident prevention and horizon scanning to ensure that all parties are alert to potential issues and respond swiftly to minimise newly-emerging risks,”​ said Barbara Gallani, director of regulation, science and health at the FDF.

“FDF has expertise in sharing information on food safety through its established network of technical and regulatory committees and we are confident that trade associations have an important role to play in information sharing in relation to food authenticity, as recognised by the Elliott Review. 

“We are working closely with our members to develop guidance on the handling of intelligence with a view to assisting members in identifying vulnerabilities in supply chains to inform their risk assessments so as to protect and safeguard UK businesses and consumers alike.”​ 

Food Crime Unit

The Food Crime Unit (FCU) proposed by Elliott as a means of co-ordinating intelligence sharing was set up by the FSA late last year. An interim head of the FCU​, Richard Hoskin, has just been appointed with the title head of food crime, incidents and resilience.

So far, 27 posts of the 36 needed for the FCU had been recruited, the Board was informed. This includes existing FSA staff handling food safety, food fraud investigations and investigators/ prosecutors, with enlarged intelligence and analysis capacity. “We are making good progress,”​ reported Wearne.

In her report to the Board about food crime and enforcement, chief  executive Catherine Brown noted: “I am pleased to report that a number of cases have recently come to court around the country and have been successfully concluded as a result of good leadership on the part of the relevant local authorities and effective cross-agency collaboration.”​ 

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