Triggered by the 2013 horsemeat scandal, the UK’s Elliott Report explores the issues behind the failure of the food supply chain to prevent fraud, and the measures that can be taken to address them.
Consumers in the UK have access to perhaps the safest food in the world and all those involved in supplying food and regulating industry should be commended for what has been achieved. However, according to the Elliott Report, there is no room for complacency, and there must be a focus on tackling food crime to protect consumers and the UK’s reputation for food safety, as well as promoting the interests of honest and hard-working food businesses.
Fraudulent or Criminal Activity?
Food fraud becomes food crime when it no longer involves random acts by ‘rogues’ within the food industry but becomes an organised activity by groups that knowingly set out to deceive, and or injure, those purchasing food. These incidents can have a huge negative impact both on consumer confidence, and on the reputation and finances of food businesses.
The UK’s Secretaries of State for The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Health asked Professor Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety and Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, to carry out this independent review of Britain’s food system in the light of the recent horsemeat fraud in 2013.
On completion, the review, which is based on eight pillars of food integrity, makes it clear that no one element can stand-alone. The recommendations seek to enhance the UK’s reputation and develop effective barriers against fraudsters who operate there and abroad. Implementation should not lead to additional regulatory burdens on industry, particularly on small and medium enterprises that make up the majority of UK food businesses.
Elliott Report Recommendations
Recommendation 1 – Consumers First
Government should ensure that the needs of consumers in relation to food safety and food crime prevention are the top priority.
Recommendation 2 – Zero Tolerance
Where food fraud or food crime is concerned, even minor dishonesty must be discouraged and the response to major dishonesty deliberately punitive.
Recommendation 3 – Intelligence Gathering
There needs to be a shared focus by Government and industry on intelligence gathering and sharing.
Recommendation 4 – Laboratory Services
Those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement must have access to resilient, sustainable laboratory services that use standardised, validated approaches.
Recommendation 5 – Audit
The value of audit and assurance regimes must be recognised in identifying the risk of food crime in supply chains.
Recommendation 6 – Government Support
Government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks should be kept specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART).
Recommendation 7 – Leadership
There is a need for clear leadership and co-ordination of effective investigations and prosecutions relating to food fraud and food crime; the public interest must be recognised by active enforcement and significant penalties for serious food crimes.
Recommendation 8 – Crisis Management
Mechanisms must be in place to deal effectively with any serious food safety and/or food crime incident.
Without increasing the regulatory burden on the food supply chain, the result is a robust system that puts the needs of consumers before all others; adopts a zero tolerance approach to food crime; invests in intelligence gathering and sharing; supports resilient laboratory services that use standardised, validated methodologies; improves the efficiency and quality of audits and more actively investigates and tackles food crime; acknowledges the key role Government has to play in supporting industry; and reinforces the need for strong leadership and effective crisis management.
Added Impetus for Audits
In an era of high regulation and regular audits and inspections, which may appear onerous, the report concludes that the industry must recognise that audits should be about ensuring a safe, high integrity supply chain that protects their business and their customers. In addition, it notes that the move towards modular and unannounced audits will help to deliver more effective outcomes.
Food Crime Agency
According to Elliott, a food crime unit is urgently needed to protect the UK’s food industry and consumers from criminal activity. Investment in such a project will be repaid by protecting the majority of businesses who work hard to provide safe and authentic food for UK consumers. Establishing better links with food crime agencies across the EU and beyond is also recommended to help combat international criminal activity in food supply.
The reports finds that the current industry focus on developing shorter supply chains and on sourcing locally produced foods in long term partnerships is of enormous importance in terms of having a more resilient, higher integrity UK food system. This will strengthen food security, maintain the UK’s reputation in export markets, and contribute to economic growth. However, the UK cannot escape the need to actively participate in global food supply systems and must develop a new mentality when sourcing from sometimes highly complex international markets.
Third Party Solutions
Laboratory services using standardised, validated methodologies as well as efficient, good quality audits form a key element of the UK’s new system. Third party certification, inspection and verification, at every stage of the food supply chain have an important role to play. Partnering with a world-leading industry expert, one that operates consistently across the globe, opens the door to a resilient, reliable and trustworthy supply network.
For further information, please contact or visit SGS Food Services website.
Food Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager,
SGS North America, Inc.
Fairfield, NJ 07004
t: +1 973 461 1493