Scottish Food Crime Unit's work agreed

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The remit of the new Scottish Food Crime and Incident Unit (SFCIU), which will tackle food fraud, has been agreed by the Food Standards Scotland (FSS) board.

The new unit would be responsible for surveillance and detection of fraud and deliberate non-compliance within the food chain.

It is being set up as a result of the recommendations of the Scudamore Expert Advisory Group, which was established by Scottish ministers in February 2013 after the horsemeat scandal.

At an FSS board meeting on 16 September, it was confirmed the unit would merge the management of food crime investigations with the management of food and feed incident response. It would also have the power to take enforcement action where necessary.

Organised crime

Primary responsibility for fighting food fraud at a local level would remain with local authorities, and where serious organised crime was involved, the investigation would be referred to the police, the board said.

Consumer group Which? welcomed FSS’s progress on the unit. Executive director Richard Lloyd said: “Our research has repeatedly found examples of food fraud so it's good to see FSS taking steps to tackle it.

“The horsemeat scandal highlighted that food fraud is now a global affair so this new unit will need to make sure it works closely with other bodies including the Food Standards Agency [FSA].”

The creation of the unit was revealed in February by Scottish newspaper The Herald. Bodies such as the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Trading Standards Scotland and the National Health Service Counter Fraud Services have been consulted over the SFCIU’s creation.

‘Positive step’

FSS chief executive Geoff Ogle said: “Since FSS was created as the new public food body for Scotland, we’ve been working to develop and establish the new unit. The unit is a vital and positive step in improving Scotland’s capability and capacity in relation to tackling food crime.

“Information sharing remains critical to unearthing and dealing with food fraud. We continue to work closely with a number of partners both in Scotland and across the UK, including police Scotland, local authorities, the FSA, and the food industry itself.”

The SFCIU would develop its capability over the coming months, and FSS is currently recruiting for additional specialists to add to the existing incidents team within the organisation.

‘Safety first’

Richard Lochhead, cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and the environment, said: “When it comes to the food we eat we must put public safety first and foremost. Establishing the new unit sends out a clear message that food crime will not be tolerated in this country.

“We have an excellent reputation for food and drink and it’s important that we safeguard, promote and enhance that.

“FSS will now have specific expertise to tackle food fraud and I welcome the progress made in putting this important resource in place. This should help to reassure consumers the length and breadth of Scotland that our food is safer than ever.”

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