Call for specialist unit to prevent food fraud

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A “complete change of culture” is needed within industry and Government to prevent food fraud, the author of an independent report into the horsemeat scandal has told MPs.

Professor Chris Elliott told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee food fraud needs to become an item in company risk registers.

Professor Elliott, who authored a Government-commissioned report that called for a specialist food crime unit to be set up in the UK, said: “Any particular incidents of suspected food fraud that are happening in large companies should be reported to the board. So what we don’t want are chief executives saying ‘I knew nothing about this’.”

He said food authenticity had been taken “very seriously” in the UK, with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) thought of worldwide as leaders in the area, “but that had been eroded over quite a number of years, to the point that governmental testing was at an all-time low”.

“One of the great failings – not just in the UK but much further afield – is that nobody has really looked at the potential for fraud in supply chains,” he told the committee. “And it’s obvious that if you’re not looking for something, it’s very likely that it will happen.”

His appearance before MPs follows the release last month of the first part of his review into how the safety and authenticity of food in the UK can be protected, which concluded the horsemeat scandal “clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain”.

The meeting came as the FSA, in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, began a study to look at the geographic origin of foods claiming to be from the UK. Food samples will be analysed using a technique known as stable isotope ratio analysis to check the accuracy of origin claims on food labels to ensure consumers can be confident that food labelled as from the UK is what it claims to be.

More than 100 samples of food have been taken from retail, wholesale and food service outlets and will be tested, and comprise beef (including burgers), pork, lamb, tomatoes, apple juice and honey. Any results that suggest a problem will be followed up with an audit of traceability.