Food experts debate next steps for supply chain integrity

The meat industry needs to put the customer first in the aftermath of the horsemeat scandal,  a forum of key industry figures were told this week.

A number of leading players in the food sector, including Professor Chris Elliott, met at the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum in London yesterday (3 February), to discuss integrity and assurance in the food supply network.

The forum, opened by vice-chair Russell Brown MP, featured a speech from Professor Elliott, who discussed his seminal interim report in the wake of horsegate. There were also presentations from representatives from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

Elliott outlined his recommendations and analysed progress in their implementation. The director of the Institute for Global Food Security explained the eight key features he believed were essential for a system paying adequate regard to integrity and assurance: consumers first, zero tolerance, intelligence gathering, laboratory services, audit, government support, leadership and crisis management.

He said: “The response to the report has been remarkable, really proactive – as if to say, ‘actually yes this is the direction we must travel in together’. My final report, which will come around late spring, will be much more detailed.

“I’ve had discussions with parliament about the recommendations. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will be the watchdog on how they are being implemented.”

Steve Wearne, director of policy at the FSA, said the industry needed to focus its priorities towards traceability, and not just concentrate on food safety, supporting Elliott’s drive towards a customer-first approach.

Barbara Gallani, director of the regulatory, science and health division at the FDF, outlined the federation’s five steps to help businesses protect themselves from food fraud. She said:  “There’s a central strand through all this in the role of co-operation and the need to work together. We will continue to help businesses protect themselves.”

Norman Bagley, policy director at AIMS, said there were positives since last year’s meat adulteration scandal: “Butchers have seen a longstanding 16-20% rise in business.”

However, he called for transparency on the events of horsegate. “Two businesses were shut down in the scandal, but where is the evidence in the public domain? We need to know what happened.”

Bagley also called for a rationalisation of government resources. “We need one organisation with a hands-on approach. There is no joined-up thinking at the moment. Even today we have a number of different bodies, such as FSA and Defra.”

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, said there were a number of complex issues that remained unaddressed. “We need to tackle the drives of cheap food, it’s critical we look at how to address this. We also need to look at sustainable food supply chains. How can we implement them and what would they look like?” he asked.

Jim McLaren, chairman of QMS, also discussed the price of our food. “Beef and other food is still remarkably cheap compared to the Retail Price Index (RPI). In Japan, they spend twice the proportion of income that we do. Do we value our food? I think we are undervaluing it,” he said.

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