The U.K. is to establish a Food Crime Unit to fight the trade in fraudulent food. The unit is one of the recommendations made in the Elliott report, which examines food integrity and assurance of food supply networks and was launched in response to last year’s horsemeat scandal, which saw contaminated beef products reaching supermarket shelves across Europe.
The Elliott report looks at ways to prevent food fraud incidents from happening. The Elliott report also looked at how to improve the culture of the food supply chain to support industry in taking responsibility for the traceability of its products, supporting local authorities targeting enforcement activity based on risk and ensuring that consumers have an increased understanding of where their food comes from.
The horsemeat fraud incident highlighted the importance of having transparency about the source of food products, the U.K. government notes. Consumers made clear that they wanted assurance that what they are buying is what it says it is.
The country is to take, or has taken, further steps to ensure that consumers know where their food is coming from. These include improved labeling, including country of origin labeling from April 2015; making it easier for food procurers to make decisions about the locality, authenticity and traceability of their food; and, robust testing of meat by industry and government.
Among other accepted recommendations in the report are creating a zero tolerance approach to food fraud, including through the development of whistle-blowing and reporting of food crime. There also will be a shared focus by government and industry on intelligence gathering and sharing, and the introduction of new unannounced audit checks by the food industry to protect businesses and their customers.
The president of the country’s National Farmers Union, Meurig Raymond, commented: “Food fraud is an issue that must be taken seriously as it is corrosive to consumer confidence, which has ramifications right the way through the food chain.
“This report now requires the support of government ministers to turn words into actions to ensure U.K. consumers are provided with secure, safe and local food for consumers to eat. The promises made by retailers in the wake of the horsemeat scandal need to be remembered, and promises to shorten supply chains and bring food closer to home should be honored.
We are supportive of the idea to create a food crime unit and look forward to finding out more about what this will look like and how it will work in practice. Although it is important that farmers do not bear the brunt of setting it up.”