Professor Elliott, of Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and director of the Institute of Global Food Security, was appointed to investigate the issue of food authenticity and fraud following the horsemeat scandal. He has reached a number of key conclusions in his review, including improving intelligence gathering, creating a Food Crime Unit to be hosted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and ensuring the availability of resilient, sustainable laboratory services for testing.
Elliott’s conclusions are based on his “eight pillars of food integrity” by which he approached the study. The recommendations fall under the pillars, which are entitled ‘Consumer First’, ‘Zero Tolerance’, ‘Intelligence Gathering’, ‘Laboratory Services’, ‘Audit’, ‘Government Support’, ‘Leadership’, and ‘Crisis Management’. The 146-page document, entitled ‘Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks - Final Report’, is available here.
Food Crime Unit
The report’s most significant message appears to be the need to tackle food crime. Elliott said: “A Food Crime Unit is urgently needed to protect our food industry and consumers from criminal activity, but it will repay investment by protecting the majority of businesses who work hard to provide safe and authentic food for UK consumers. Establishing better links with food crime agencies across the EU and beyond will help combat international criminal activity in food supply.”
The government has responded to the report by saying it will set up such a 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”.
It has also committed to improving coordination across government to protect food integrity, supporting industry in putting in place an effective supply chain audit system, improving intelligence-sharing, and “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”.
Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “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.”
Strengthening supply chain controls
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), welcomed the report’s results: “The Elliott report makes a valuable contribution to strengthening supply chain controls – a fundamental issue for all retailers. We particularly welcome the recognition that this requires good co-ordination along the supply chain and with governments here and in Europe, and that all parties must accept and meet their responsibilities.
“The retail sector has played its part by carrying out an extensive review of how we exchange intelligence, how we can tighten up testing and auditing and shorten our supply chains. The BRC itself has developed new key tools for auditing the supply chain that will strengthen controls and directly target food fraud.”
Find out more about the new food crime unit set up to strengthen consumer confidence in Britain's high quality food. http://t.co/J7PGnz7b8w— Defra UK (@DefraGovUK) September 4, 2014
Public remains concerned
The report was published on the same day as research commissioned by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) found that the public remains concerned about food fraud, irrespective of income group, with the organisation calling for swift implementation of the recommendations in the review. It said: “Almost three-quarters (73%) of the public are either very concerned or concerned about the recycling of animal by-products back into the food chain, and a similar proportion (73%) have concerns about the packing and selling of beef and poultry with an unknown origin.”