Can the FSA deliver a Food Crime Unit?

Concern over whether the Food Standards Agency (FSA) can deliver a Food Crime Unit by the end of the year have been heard at a recent Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee.

The government announced in September it would be setting up the unit following the recommendations im the Elliott review.

Gary Copson former commander of the Metropolitan Police told the commitee: “What the FSA has recognised in recent weeks is that they currently do not have the skills and expertise to set up a Food Crime Unit as envisaged.

“They are now determined that they will, over a number of months, go out and improve those skills and expertise."

Copson attended the EFRA committee hearing alongside Professor Chris Elliott and Professor Pat Troop, former deputy chief medical officer.

This concern has been aired by members of the meat industry, including John Young, former manager at the meat hygiene service, who told, that problems arise when police officers with no food background are conducting investigations into criminal activity in the meat industry. He said that if the Food Crime Unit is to be successful, it must utilise experts in the industry, rather than outsourcing regulators and investigators with no food-based knowledge. “Do this and it will fail,” he warned.

However, the FSA confirmed it has made an appointment of head of intelligence but would not provide details of her background.

Asked why there has been no convictions relating to the horsemeat scandal, Professor Chris Elliott told the hearing there was no expertise within law enforcement relating to food crime.

“One of the things I did was write to all 43 police forces across the UK to ask what information they had on food fraud and food crime and they all reported back to me – zero.”

Elliott went on to say the City of London police, which took on the horsemeat case, were not to blame for a lack of conviction but there was a mentality across the country’s law enforcement which meant food fraud was not taken seriously, using the example that police databases do not contain the word “food”.

However, a spokesperson for the FSA said: “The Food Crime Unit is being established and we are on track to be operational by the end of the year.”

Meanwhile, adulterated meat has been found in several food outlets in Coventry last week. Trading standards officers were said to be “horrified” after they uncovered several food outlets substituting meat products with cheaper alternatives.

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