An interim UK government report into the horsemeat scandal of January 2013 has warned of growing potential for food adulteration and other “food crimes” and has made a number of recommendations, including the establishment of a dedicated Food Crime Unit.
The Interim Report of the Elliot Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks is published today. The review was initiated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the wake of the discovery of adulteration of beef with horsemeat and was carried out by Professor Chris Elliot, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security and Queen’s University Belfast.
Professor Elliot issued a call for evidence for the review in June and also met with a range of stakeholders around the country to obtain a cross section of views. His report recognises that the level of food safety in the UK is very high, but identifies complex and widespread food crime as a real threat to consumer confidence and the reputation of food businesses. The problem is considered an emerging issue across Europe and Professor Elliot notes that the European Commission has already set up a new food fraud unit within DG SANCO.
The report points out that little is known about the extent of criminality in the food supply chain, or the possible involvement of organised crime networks, largely because intelligence on these issues has never been systematically collected. Professor Elliot therefore recommends that both government and industry need to invest in the collection and sharing of intelligence. He also identifies a need for sustainable laboratory services using properly validated methods to back up the enforcement effort and recommends changes to audit and assurance regimes to make them more effective.
Another key recommendation is to bring the Food Authenticity Programme back under the control of the Food Standards Agency, which should be strengthened. Professor Elliot’s proposed Food Crime Unit would be staffed by police officers, but would also sit within the Agency, so that investigations into criminal activity in the supply chain can have access to the necessary expertise.
Professor Elliot’s final report will be published in the spring of 2014 after more discussion of his initial recommendations with government and industry. The interim report can be found in full here.