The food industry must do more to prevent food fraud, says an interim UK government report commissioned to assess food integrity in the wake of the horse meat crisis.
The full Elliott Review is due for publication in April, but initial findings, published in a report released today, found little knowledge of the extent of food fraud along complex supply chains.
The UK government appointed Professor Chris Elliott of Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute for Global Food Security to examine issues affecting food authenticity in the UK in June after the widespread discovery of horse meat in beef products.
Elliott wrote that industry and consumers alike were vulnerable to food crime, even though the UK food supply is “perhaps the safest” in the world.
“A significant change in culture is needed to deal with the threats of fraudulent activity that exist along complex supply chains,” he wrote.
“My review to date has identified a worrying lack of knowledge regarding the extent to which we are dealing with criminals infiltrating the food industry. I believe criminal networks have begun to see the potential for huge profits and low risks in this area.”
While the report did not focus on the horse meat crisis itself, it did draw on reports published in response.
“Our focus now urgently needs to turn to tackling food crime. Due to very limited intelligence it is hard to gauge the scale of this in our food supply chains,” the report said.
The report’s recommendations include prioritising prevention to increase consumer confidence in the food supply, and collecting data as a matter of urgency to fill knowledge gaps about the scale of the problem in the UK.
Elliott added that the term ‘food fraud’ may give the false impression of a less serious crime.
“But nobody should be in any doubt: the serious end of food fraud is organised crime, and the profits for criminals can be huge.”
UK environment secretary Owen Paterson said in a statement that he was pleased the interim report recognised the systems in place to ensure food safety.
He said: “The UK food industry already has robust procedures to ensure they deliver high quality food to consumers and food businesses have a legal duty to uphold the integrity of food they sell. It is rightly highly regarded across the world and we must not let anything undermine this or the confidence of consumers in the integrity of their food.”
The full interim report is available to download here .