The UK must set up a specialist crime unit to investigate organised crime in food supply chains in the aftermath of the horsemeat scandal, an official review has recommended.
The interim report, commissioned by the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), investigates the security of supply networks, finding that the scandal “clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain”.
Professor of food safety Chris Elliott, the review’s author who is also a director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, stresses that the UK does have high standards of food safety. He adds that that the real scale of illegal activity is almost impossible to calculate, but says that there is “a worrying lack of knowledge” about what is really going on.
Elliot calls for a new police unit to be set up independently from the Home Office, to fight “complex food crime perpetrated by highly organised and dangerous, potentially violent organised crime groups”.
He also recommends that a change of culture is supermarkets is required, urging a policy of zero-tolerance for even “minor dishonesties”.
“My expectation is that other types of food crime will start to emerge here”, Elliott adds.
“All we can do is put in place things to prevent food crime in the UK so they look for a softer touch somewhere else.”
Jenny Morris, principal food policy officer at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), said she welcomed the findings of the review.
She said her organisation “will work with the Food Standards Agency, who should act as the lead agency on food crime, to respond quickly to these recommendations and to ensure speedy implementation.
“What the horsemeat crisis highlighted for us was the need for better intelligence and improved coordination.”
In a statement, the FSA also said Elliot “is right to highlight that there is a role for central government, local authorities and the food industry to play in this area.”
Environment secretary Owen Paterson claimed that the government has already taken some steps the Elliot review has recommended.
“The detail of how set up a crime unit as he suggests, whether we build on the current intelligence hub, I think those are details that we need to work on,” he said.
There have so far been no successful prosecutions relating to the horsemeat scandal in the UK.
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