Secrecy of Food Crime Unit will be essential

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Keeping it secret:: 'We wouldn't want to risk blowing our cover on any operations', said Steve Wearne
Keeping it secret:: 'We wouldn't want to risk blowing our cover on any operations', said Steve Wearne

Related tags: Food crime unit, Food standards agency, Food

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA’s) new Food Crime Unit (FCU) is likely to remain secretive about much of its activities for fear of alerting criminals currently under investigation, said Steve Wearne, the FSA’s director of policy.

Despite frustration from the food industry over the lack of information emerging about the FCU's activities, it was unlikely the situation would change, said Wearne.

“By the nature of the work, a lot of the details will stay behind the scenes because we wouldn’t want to risk blowing our cover on any current and future operations by disclosing too much information,”​ Wearne said at a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum held last month (March) in London.

Counterproductive

Although the industry sought greater transparency about the FCU it would be counterproductive to respond to those calls in much detail, because there was too much at stake, he added.

The FCU was set up late last year within the FSA as proposed in Professor Chris Elliott’s report into the 2013 horsemeat scandal. Several industry leaders have since expressed their concerns over how little information has been disclosed by the FCU.

For it to be effective, intelligence had to flow both into and out of the FCU, said Kaarin Goodburn, director of the Chilled Food Association.

“It is essential that information flows out of the FSA for food businesses to be able to act on issues under investigation," ​she added.

Fraud

Alcohol fraud was one area that required more transparency from FCU, claimed David Young, a partner at the law firm Eversheds, speaking earlier this year. If the FCU continued to make little information public, its credibility as a body capable of dealing with food and drink crime would be tarnished, warned Young.

An FSA spokeswoman said: “During its first phase, the FCU will focus on building the intelligence and evidence picture of the risks and the nature of food fraud and food crime in the UK.”

Andy Morling, a former senior intelligence lead at the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, has been appointed head of the FCU, replacing its temporary head since February, Richard Hoskin.

Related topics: Legal, Hygiene, safety & cleaning

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