Following last year’s horsemeat scandal, all of the findings from an independent review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks have been accepted by the government.
The aim of the review by Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Global Institute for Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, was to advise on issues which impact upon consumer confidence in the authenticity of food products. This includes any systemic failures in food supply networks and systems of oversight with implications for food safety and public health, and to make recommendations.
The review, published on 7 September, examines ways to prevent food fraud incidents from happening and looks into how to improve the culture of our food supply chain to support industry taking effective responsibility for the traceability of their products, support local authorities target enforcement activity based on risk and ensure consumers have an increased understanding of where their food comes from.
The main recommendation is the need for a Food Crime Unit in the Food Standards Authority which is ‘urgently needed to protect our food industry and consumers from criminal activity … it will repay investment by protecting the majority of businesses who work hard to provide safe and authentic food for UK consumers’.
The full list of recommendations include:
- Ensuring consumers are put first in relation to food safety and food crime prevention
- Where food crime is concerned, dishonesty must be discouraged and the response to major dishonesty deliberately punitive
- A shared focus by government and industry on intelligence gathering and sharing
- Those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement must have access to resilient, sustainable laboratory services that use standardised, validated approaches
- The value of audit and assurance regimes must be recognised in identifying the risk of food crime in supply chains
- Government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks should be kept specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely
- Clear leadership and co-ordination of effective investigations and prosecutions relating to food fraud and food crime; the public interest must be recognised by active enforcement and significant penalties for serious food crimes
- Mechanisms must be in place to deal effectively with any serious food safety and/or food crime incident
The key findings of the report support the actions being taken by government to strengthen consumer confidence in food and remove unnecessary burdens on food businesses. It is committed to:
- Setting up a Food Crime Unit in the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to give greater focus to enforcement against food fraud in government by analysing intelligence, initiating investigations and liaising with other criminal and regulatory enforcement agencies
- Taking a strategic approach to ensuring that the country has a resilient network of food analytical laboratories capable of testing consistently for food authenticity in the future
- Improving coordination across government to protect food integrity and tackle food crime
- Implementing measures to ensure better intelligence sharing between the food industry and government about potential threats to food integrity
- Supporting industry to ensure that food businesses know their supply chain. In particular by encouraging industry’s efforts to put in place a robust and effective supply chain audit system that does not just rely on paper audit trails