However, its director Stephen Rossides hoped the EU would make controls smart, as well as comprehensive, reducing challenging audits that can burden producers. Rossides was responding to the European Commission’s launch of FoodIntegrity, a five-year international project to combat food fraud, including meat products.
Led by the UK’s Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), it will bring together meat industry experts and government agriculture institutes around the world to create an early-warning system to flag up meat fraud risks and to close gaps in research. "A range of measures are needed to tackle food fraud, but further mandatory labelling measures are not necessary and would simply add to cost and the burden of regulation," Rossides said.
The project also includes food industry giants such as Italy’s Barilla and government agricultural research bodies including Ireland’s agricultural development institute ‘Teagasc’. Paul Brereton, coordinator of FoodIntegrity, said the project could have an important role in crisis response: "We will mobilise research rapidly in the event of a major food fraud crisis. For instance, if there was a horsemeat crisis tomorrow, we could provide immediate expert advice to the [European] Commission and industry about technical responses."
Meanwhile, Alison Johnson, director of Britain’s Food Forensics – a commercial laboratory and a partner in the FoodIntegrity project – said greater efforts to detect counterfeit meat products were vital for the industry to regain confidence: "The food industry needs to accept there is a higher level of risk than they previously acknowledged and that investment in proactive interventions will manage business risk and deter fraud."
As well as information-sharing, researchers will examine new scientific verification methods, such as ‘isotopic fingerprinting’ – a technique that can compare a sample of meat with the DNA records of livestock groups – to confirm if the sample’s geographical origin and method of production match with the description on the label.