Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, yesterday published the first part of his review into how UK food safety and authenticity can be protected. Elliott was asked to undertake the review by the Secretaries of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Health in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.
Elliott said that the food chain must put consumers above “all other aims” and prioritise food safety and food crime prevention. He recommended data collections and surveys to improve knowledge of criminal activity in the UK food supply chain, more focus on food fraud during auditing of businesses by government and industry, the formation of intelligence hubs for government and industry to gather, analyse and disseminate information about food crime, and the development of a specialist ‘Food Crime Unit’, to be hosted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
“The UK has some of the highest standards of food safety in the world. Food production is a global industry and we need to ensure that our high standards are maintained across the whole supply chain,” said Elliott.
“The horsemeat crisis clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain and while the next stage of my review will gather more evidence on this it is right that measures are in place to further protect consumers. The food industry and the government are already striving to achieve this.”
More power for FSA
The review also recommended a crack down on food authenticity, and called for responsibility for food authenticity testing and labelling policy to return from Defra to the FSA. “The FSA should remain a non-Ministerial department but changes to its governance arrangements, as set out in more detail in the review, are necessary to make it a more robust organisation,” it added.
The FSA has welcomed the report, and said it was said it was “right to highlight that there is a role for central government, local authorities and the food industry to play” in food crime. It added that it was already working with Defra and local authorities to detect and deter food fraud, and had supported the establishment of a European Union food fraud unit.