In order to restore consumer confidence, which took a hit when horsemeat was found in products labelled as beef last year, the government has 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”.
Moreover, the government will ensure the country has “a resilient network of food analytical laboratories” in order to keep testing food authencity.
It will also improve coordination across departments to protect food integrity and tackle food crime, as well as implementing measures to ensure “better intelligence sharing between the food industry and government about potential threats to food integrity”.
Finally, the government has committed to supporting industry to ensure that food businesses know their supply chain by encouraging the industry’s efforts to put in place a strong and effective supply chain audit system “that does not just rely on paper audit trails”.
Commissioned by the government in June 2013, the independent Elliott review today presented its conclusions, stating that food crime – “an organised activity by groups which knowingly set out to deceive, and or injure, those purchasing food” – is a fact in the UK, though the full extent of it is unknown.
The review’s author, Professor Chris Elliott, made eight recommendations to tackle the issue:
- Putting consumers first in the implementation of policies to prevent food fraud and crime, for example by introducing and annual targeted testing programme to maintain consumer confidence in food
- Showing zero tolerance even towards minor breaches, and encouraging the industry to fight breaches
- Gathering and sharing intelligence efficiently by better coordinating the FSA, regulators and the industry
- Offering resilient and sustainable laboratory services to allow for consistent, standardised testing
- Supporting and encouraging a more effective auditing system consisting of fewer but more thorough and unannounced audits
- Making government support specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART)
- Having clear leadership on the food crime issue, with the appointment of the FSA as the organisation in charge, and the creation of a Food Crime Unit as part of it
- Putting crisis management mechanisms in place to deal with any serious incidents
Responding to the review, Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “It is only right the government has accepted the Elliott Review findings and recognised that consumers must be put first if we are to restore trust in the food industry following the horsemeat scandal.
“It’s in the interests of responsible food businesses, as well as consumers, to make sure there are effective controls in place and a zero tolerance approach to food crime. We now want the government to quickly implement all of the recommendations so consumers can be confident in the food they buy.”
The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) also welcomed the government's decision to take the recommendation on board. Strategic affairs director Kate Nicholls said: “The steps being proposed by the government should give food businesses in the UK, not least in the licensed hospitality sector, greater confidence and certainty in the information they receive from their suppliers so that we can reassure our customers. Incidents of fraud such as the recent horsemeat scandal are very rare but have affected consumer confidence and pubs and restaurants are just as much the victim when faulty or illegal goods are present in the supply chain.
“We have worked with the government to highlight the importance of food security and stressed the need to maintain high standards without overburdening business. We are therefore pleased to see the government acknowledging, not just the importance of transparency in this sector, but what a vital sector it is.
“The government’s response notes the benefits of the Primary Authority Partnership Scheme in underpinning industry best practice and we will be working to secure assured advice on supply chain auditing on which our members can rely.”
Hospitality operators have put more focus on supply chain traceability as consumers’ concerns about the food they eat has grown in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.
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