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Government to Set up Food Crime Unit after Horse Meat Report

05 September 2014

UK - The British government has accepted all the recommendations of the Elliott report on food integrity and assurance of food supply networks which was ordered following the discovery of horse meat contamination of beef products two years ago.

The final report by Professor Chris Elliott that has just been published calls for the establishment of a new Food Crime Unit.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said that this would strengthen consumer confidence in Britain’s high quality food.

She said that British food has a world renowned reputation and the government wants to strengthen this to ensure families have confidence in the food that they buy.

She said that shoppers should be able to understand where their food comes from and be protected from food fraudsters.

The new Food Crime Unit is one of a number of improvements to ensure consumer confidence in the produce they purchase.
Professor Elliott’s review examined ways to prevent food fraud incidents from occurring.

It also looked into how to improve the culture of the UK’s 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 report puts forward eight main recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1 - Consumers First: Government should ensure that the needs of consumers in relation to food safety and food crime prevention are the top priority.
  • Recommendation 2 - Zero Tolerance: Where food fraud or food crime is concerned, even minor dishonesty must be discouraged and the response to major dishonesty deliberately punitive.
  • Recommendation 3 - Intelligence Gathering: There needs to be a shared focus by Government and industry on intelligence gathering and sharing.
  • Recommendation 4 - Laboratory Services: Those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement must have access to resilient, sustainable laboratory services that use standardised, validated approaches.
  • Recommendation 5 - Audit: The value of audit and assurance regimes must be recognised in identifying the risk of food crime in supply chains.
  • Recommendation 6 - Government Support: Government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks should be kept specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART).
  • Recommendation 7 - Leadership: There is a need for 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.
  • Recommendation 8 - Crisis Management: Mechanisms must be in place to deal effectively with any serious food safety and/or food crime incident.

Speaking as the government published its full response to Professor Elliott’s report, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “We’re taking action to make sure that families can have absolute confidence in the food that they buy.

“When a shopper picks something up from a supermarket shelf it should be exactly what it says on the label, and we’ll crack down on food fraudsters trying to con British consumers.

“As well as keeping up confidence here, we need to protect the great reputation of our food abroad. We’ve been opening up even more export markets, which will grow our economy, provide jobs, and support the government’s long-term economic plan.

“The action we’re taking gives more power to consumers - meaning they’ve got better labelling on food, better education about where their food comes from, and better, locally-sourced food in schools and hospitals.

“The horse meat fraud incident highlighted the importance of having transparency about the source of food products. Consumers made clear that they wanted assurance that what they are buying is what it says it is.

Immediately after the incident consumers increasingly chose British food, with an increase of 10 per cent in British beef on sale in UK retailers.”

Mrs Truss added that the government has taken further action to make sure consumers know where their food is coming from and ensure consumer confidence through:

  • improved labelling including new country of origin labelling introduced from April 2015.
  • making it easier for food procurers to make decisions about the locality, authenticity and traceability of their food.

The government has also taken action to empower consumers to understand where their food comes from through:

  • improving public procurement of food and catering services to provide schools and hospitals with high quality British food and boost UK farming.
  • improving food education in schools through a new national curriculum to give children a better understanding of where their food comes from and why it is important to know what is in our food.

Food and drink is the UK's largest manufacturing industry and the government said that the integrity of the food supply chains is important for the credibility of our exports, our domestic economy and consumers. The government and industry have taken action to improve its reputation through:

  • expanding trade internationally through the Export Action Plan, opening up new markets in China and the US and increasing exports of UK food and drink by 6.8 per cent since 2010.
  • robust testing of meat by industry and government with over 50,000 tests carried out - all of them showing that horse meat was not present.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

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