Horsemeat scandal research given go ahead

Two British universities have been awarded grants through the Global Food Security Programme to research the effects of the horsemeat scandal.

Queen’s University in Belfast has been awarded £500,000 to investigate global food fraud after the horsemeat scandal. Professor Chris Elliott will investigate vulnerabilities in the food chain and offer solutions to building consumer confidence.

Elliott said: “There are a growing number of reports of fraud and criminal activity in global food supply systems. These are causing huge concerns to governmental agencies and to the food industry. Consumers are losing trust in the safety and quality of what they purchase. This Queen’s University-led study will play a very important role in ascertaining where the major vulnerabilities are and how best to deal with them. Helping to restore consumer trust is a key objective of our work.

“The current food protection systems are not designed to look for the never-ending number of potential adulterants that may show up in the food supply. As criminal activity by design is intended to elude detection, new tools and approaches to the supply chain management are called for.

“This project will explore how other countries deal with issues of food safety and analyse legal law cases that relate to fraud. Based on an assumption that fraudsters will exploit any intelligence gathering system, it will also examine current and potential models of data collection and intelligence sharing and test their vulnerabilities to future fraudulent attacks. This will help to develop a novel data collection sharing system that is more robust and secure.”

Elliott was awarded the grant by the ‘Understanding the Challenges of the Food System’ call by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Food Standards Agency, under the Global Food Security programme.

Meanwhile, The University of Cardiff has also won a grant through the Global Food Security programme and has launched a research study into consumer reaction to the horsemeat scandal through social media. The university reported that the project will also investigate how the “growing complexity of international food supply chains is giving rise to a new generation of risks and concerns”.

The researchers have collected online data since 2012 from Twitter accounts and will use Tweets to pinpoint milestone moments during the scandal.

Dr Pete Burnap, computer scientist and expert in risk in distributed and collaborative online networks, added: “We can also mine the data to discover variations in levels of public sentiment and tension around the topic, as well as identify demographic characteristics of those involved and the geographic spread of the scare. This study will enhance understanding of the potential of social media analysis to both access public perceptions and how these evolve and to establish how social media analysis can be used in risk governance and engagement with the public about risks more generally.”

Professor Paul Boyle, chief executive of the ESRC, said the research will provide “mutual benefit for the food industry and consumers alike”.

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