/ Food & Drink

A new Food Crime Unit to stop a horsemeat repeat

Food fraud

The Government has today accepted the recommendations of the Elliott Report in full, including the establishment of a new Food Crime Unit. Will this give you more confidence in the food you buy?

I don’t know about you, but the horsemeat scandal really hit my confidence in the food I eat. The contamination of meat products across Europe made it starkly obvious that we didn’t really know what was going into our food and that fraud could be widespread.

We’ve been calling on the Government to take urgent steps to ensure a horsemeat-type scandal can’t happen again. Or, if it does, that it can be spotted sooner and those adulterating our food are caught and held to account through the Courts.

Professor Chris Elliott was commissioned by the Government to examine how food fraud incidents could be prevented from happening again. His report has now been published, and in a big win for our Stop Food Fraud campaign supporters, the Government has agreed to his recommendations in full. Hurrah! But what’s in the report, and is it any good?

Putting your needs first

Central to the Elliott Report is a ‘consumer first’ approach, where industry, government and enforcement agencies will always put the needs of consumers above all other objectives. We strongly support this emphasis (as you would expect), and we now want to see the Government outline how it intends to ensure your needs are top priority in food crime prevention.

One concern that became apparent during the horsemeat scandal was the lack of coordination across the Government and the Food Standards Agency. It’s quite worrying that since 2010 there hasn’t been effective means of coordination on food issues. This has been recognised in the Elliot Report – ministers will now meet regularly to discuss food crime to ensure problems are identified and rapid action is taken.

New Food Crime Unit

We had no idea how long horsemeat was present in our food, and there’s also the possibility that other foods out there are subject to adulteration. That’s why we need a body to take responsibility for investigating food crime – step forward the ‘Food FBI’ (as it’s been dubbed by the Daily Mail). This new Food Crime Unit (its formal description) will be set up by the end of 2014 and will be placed in the Food Standards Agency.

This Food Crime Unit is modelled on examples seen around the world, and will introduce capabilities for law enforcement style investigations into food crime. It’ll be key to identifying and prosecuting more of the criminals that mess with our food.

We welcome the publication of the Elliott Report and the Government’s full acceptance of its findings. We now want the Government to quickly implement all of the recommendations so that you can be confident in the food you buy.

Do the measures announced by the Government increase your confidence in the food you buy? What do you think about the introduction of a Food Crime Unit?

Will a new Food Crime Unit give you more confidence in the food you buy?

Yes (60%, 1,361 Votes)

Don't know (21%, 480 Votes)

No (19%, 422 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,263

Loading ... Loading ...

It’s about time the government got off their plush backsides and thought about what the public [us] are being served in the name of food. Well done Which, sterling work as usual.

david says:
4 September 2014

It is dreadful that after a bumper crop of soft fruit harvest in the UK supermarkets are still charges the same price for blackberries,blueberries and raspberries.

In the winter these are imported and maybe some justification for the high prices but not now.

A dreadful rip off

Abutt1cl says:
5 September 2014

Asda are still importing strawberries!!!

4caster says:
5 September 2014

Asda import strawberries because outdoor ones in the UK were over by early August.

Abutt1cl says:
6 September 2014

The majority of strawberries in the UK are grown in polly tunnels with the season continuing until October.

Pauline Garrod says:
4 September 2014

Why can’t we have good old fashioned bacon that’s not full of water and loadsofwhite stuff when you cook it

The trouble as I see it, that they sell the meat by weight [obviously], so if the supermarket’s meat is pumped full of water, then we are paying for the water as well as the meat, so we are actually getting right royally ripped off. I think Which should start a campaigning to do something about that!
So Pauline I absolutely agree with you. I try to buy ‘dry cured’ bacon which is not soaked in bacon as is the ‘wet cured’ which is what you are talking about. Of course they charge more for the ‘dry cured!

The main problem with horse meat being sold as beef etc is that is unlikely to have gone through the normal tests to make sure that it is fit to eat. Hopefully the new Food Crime Unit will successfully tackle problems of this nature.

Of course it is not a crime that around 60% of chicken sold in supermarkets is contaminated with Campylobacter, resulting in the current campaign by the Food Standards Agency to discourage us from washing poultry before cooking. There is something very wrong with the animal husbandry and processing to result in a problem of this scale, and it is no surprise that Campylobacter is the main cause of food poisoning. Some organisation needs to devote whatever effort is necessary to deal with this problem, and I wonder if the Food Crime Unit may be able to assist the FSA.

4caster says:
5 September 2014

Raw meat can be expected to carry bacteria that is harmful to humans. There is no method of eliminating it. Wild birds such as game probably carries even more. That is why meat should be cooked or properly cured before consumption.

One of the major deficiencies by the Elliott Report seems to be the reduction in the number of Trading Standards Officers employed by the responsible local authorities. I don’t know how many authorities with the relevant responsibilities there are but if there are 200 of them in the UK it would probably only cost another £60 million each year to let every one of them employ an extra five inspectors [assuming an expenditure per inspector of £60k including direct on-costs]. This would be money well-spent and is a paltry amount set alongside the cost of dealing with the consequences of unsafe foodstuffs. This probably wouldn’t be enough to restore full confidence in the safety of our food but it would be a good start and could be developed further in the future. More Environmental Health Officers would be another worth-while expense. Over time the addiional supervisory, enforcement and prosecution activities would have a deep corrective effect on the food production industry and make it hard to profit from selling sub-standard food, failing to test food effectively, and importing food with inadequate provenance. It could take some of the pressure of the NHS as well.

Oops!! I omitted “highlighted” in the first line after “deficiencies” and meant to say “take some of the pressure off the NHS” in the final line. Sorry about that.

Teresa Bliss says:
4 September 2014

Well said. We could just not fire a few missiles and it would be all paid for.

Oops!! I omitted “highlighted” in the first line after “deficiencies” and meant to say “take some of the pressure off the NHS” in the final line. Sorry about that.

phil vasili says:
4 September 2014

Profit is always the first objective in the system of capitalist food production. While this initiative has potential ultimately only producing for peoples needs wthin a democraticlly organised system of food production will ensure decent and nutritious food for all. Shop at your local market!

Susan Wood says:
4 September 2014

Now we need some robust action on Halal meat. I think this cruel method if slaughter should be banned – like in Denmark. But at least all meat should be properly labelled, so we know what to avoid.

Shall we ban veal meat. which is young calves being chained by the neck so they cannot lick the floor as they are deprived of iron in their diet to make the meat pink instead of red? Shall we ban the production of pate as this involves stuffing the animal with food until its liver explodes. Or is there an ulterior motive in looking for a ban on halal meat???

No – no ulterior motive at all. And you are quite right about veal and pate de foie gras. I was just highlighting one area, which seems to be creeping in without publicity, eg where Halal meat is provided in schools for unwitting children to eat. Britain is supposed to be a nation of animal-lovers. But we still tolerate a lot of cruelty with our farming methods. Battery chickens & eggs for example. And taking calves away from their mothers, so we can enjoy milk. (Which should be a problem for vegetarians!) I suspect a lot of the problem stems from people being ill-informed. And the food ‘industry’ would prefer that we are kept in the dark. I would like to see animal welfare given a much higher priority, across the board. If the Government won’t take action (presumably because of lobbying by the powerful food producers), then we need to be given the fullest information, so we can vote with our feet.

4caster says:
5 September 2014

I agree that slaughter by bleeding conscious animals should be banned. If that means people of certain religions can’t eat the meat, so be it. They can live as vegetarians but still eat fish, eggs and dairy produce.
Having said that, most halal meat slaughtered in the UK is pre-stunned electrically before being bled. This is acceptable to Muslims because, in theory, the animal will recover if not killed. Non-halal meat is pre-stunned using a captive bolt, which does not necessarily make the animal unconscious. Its brain is then usually eviscerated, which means it is stirred around using a metal rod, before bleeding. I don’t know which method is more or less cruel. All slaughter is gruesome.
And I am, most of all, repulsed by production of foie gras and white veal. We have much further to go regarding animal welfare.

I might feel more confident if the government backed it up with secure funding but as there is an election coming they will say anything to scure votes from gullible people.

And no where will we find a more gullible people than in this Third World Country of ours

penny crouch says:
4 September 2014

This could be a start. ALL HALAL GOODS MUST BE CLEARLY LABELED. So we as a supposedly CHRISTIAN COUNTRY can choose what we buy

John Dwyer says:
4 September 2014

I agree entirely. The new Food Crime Unit will not address the Halal scandal. Christians and Jews are expressly forbidden to accept food which has been dedicated to a false God and yet they are being sold Halal meat without their knowledge. This is of far greater concern than being given horsemeat in place of beef.

Whatever happened to an open society are you a bigot??

amanda stone says:
4 September 2014

i will only be more confident when the service is PROVEN to work!

This new food crime unit will initially have limited success until it gets established. Even then with current amount of government cuts, I cannot forsee sufficient funding being available to provide the coverage that will allow it to be truly affective. I truly feel that this new unit is a sop, to try and con the electorate into thinking that this government cares and has taken this subject seriously. I applaud Which for doing what is right and taking this as far as they have, but I will withhold the cheers until I see some long term positive results. I am sure that with the profits involved, as we clear one obstacle these crooks will invent another.

[This comment has been removed for breaking our guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

“They” are us we should be in control of pushing for change, but we are lethargic.

[This comment has been edited for being off-topic. Thanks, mods.]

Abdulhusein Akbar says:
4 September 2014

Food ethics for Vegetarians are very much neglected.

All foods, including chocolates, crisps, buiscuits etc. should have a clear label to confirm whether they are suitable for consumption by vegetarians. Even cakes, ice creams and other similar products should state clearly if they are suitable for vegetarians’ consumption.

Apart from vegetarians, even non-veg people also try to avoid consumption of animal fats and other material which may be detrimental to their health.

Whatever we put in place it will be difficult to police due to spending cuts.The penalties should be made very harsh to act as a deterrent. Unfortunately, it will probably end up like so many other aspects of life in the UK. People who know about it will feel afraid to report it as they may lose their jobs, so it all gets hidden until someone dies, or a little bit of luck when the tests are made. A young child died as a result of food poisoning, in Wales, many others were extremely ill. Following an investigation it was found to be the fault of the butcher who had the council contract. The butcher had a meat slicer or processing machine which should only be used with either raw, or, cooked meats. But in order to save money he instructed his staff to use it irrespective of the meat being cooked or raw. The result was many many children who were extremely ill and the death of a child. The parents had their child KILLED by someone who just didn’t care about the customers but only of profit. And the punishment, 6 months in prison well whoopy F***ing Doo.

Just look at the recent case of the mass child abuse case in the north. Every level of protection failed and failed miserably because too many people do not want to get involved.

Health & Safety is another issue. Employees take short cuts and have accidents, but some employers ignore basic safety rules as they have done a risk assessment and made a decision that the risk is worth it in the long run. Why? because the punishment is to weak.

Anita W says:
4 September 2014

As long as there are those who are happy to cheat us in the name of easy profit, I don’t think that this will change anything. What a shame that the pleasure of cooking is no longer taught in schools, I make everything I eat myself so I know more or less exactly what I am putting into my mouth. Chicken has been a taboo for a long time unless I pay the earth & buy from my local butcher so that I know where it has been reared. 35 days from birth to shop does not get to my taste buds.I also wait to see what the long term results bring but I fear that this is simply another political gimmick.

Perhaps someone can advise if this will apply in Scotland or does it only apply to England?

We might know better after 18 September…..

chris says:
4 September 2014

i don,t think this problem will ever go away. the government and food authorities seem to use a lot of poetic license to try and pull the wool over our eyes

Teresa Bullock says:
4 September 2014

Buy your food locally from people you know and trust, not from supermarkets you can’t be sure from where it has come.Also by supporting your local shops you won’t see so many closing.
Support your local shops it may be a bit more expensive but worth it you know what you are getting.

Two major supermarkets have killed off our local shops. The only butcher with a shopfront has its meat delivered in cardboard boxes. Something has to be done to protect the millions of people who have no alternative but to rely on the major retialers for their fresh, cooked and processed meat and other produce. The horsemeat scandal revealed that having destroyed the competition the chains then abandoned control of the product..

Mole Valley Surrey Resident says:
5 September 2014

Are they Tesco & Sainsbury?
These supermarkets are destroying so many small local shopping areas.
What gets me is locals raise petitions against them that get huge support but councils completely ignore them. They still allow the supermarkets to open and we lose our local bakers, butchers etc. as they can’t compete.
Even if they are turned down, they appeal again and again until they do get planning permission as they seem to have unlimited funds to get their own way.

Susan Wood says:
5 September 2014

Of course Councils should take into account the destructive potential of supermarkets on small shops (though I think there would have to be a change in the Planning laws to enable this). However, the pity is that all those people who campaign against the intrusion of the supermarkets troop in and spend money there. Why don’t they continue to give their loyal custom to the small shops? Ok – maybe the supermarkets are a bit cheaper in money terms, but not when you factor in the REAL cost in terms of the destruction of our communities.

As it happens, Mole Valley Resident, it is Tesco and Sainsbury that have done the damage in our town. So far as I know, Sainsbury was not implicated in the horsemeat hoo-hah so my comments about the trade being ignorant of their sources does not apply to them. Nevertheless, as a result of their actions in commandeering big sites with ample car parking on the edge of town and selling just about everything that people want from dolls’ eyes to fly-papers as well as a vast range of groceries in between there is no scope for any other trader to turn a profit. Not content with sweeping the established shops out of the town they are now setting up smaller stores and home delivery systems to capture every possible penny in the people’s pockets so there is no way any competitive operator can get a toe-hold in the market and commercial domination prevails. Sainsbury and Tesco have also – presumably – done deals with the Royal Mail to allow them to site the only postbox in a one mile radius inside their stores [not accessible after 4 pm on Sundays when many people need to post their letters – it’s no doubt a sensible place to locate a postbox, but why not place it on the adjacent public highway or outside the entrance? . . . I guess money changed hands at some point]. Likewise pharmacies, and newspaper supplies, which are also subject to various locational restrictions.

Council planners need thorough auditing. How is it supermarkets and building firms get what they want when the individual has so much trouble getting a small application passed.

It is a criminal that councils do not support their local businesses.

Once the supermarket has its foothold in the local community, a few loyal customers will still use the local shops, but many will go for the cheaper option. It is hard to resist the special offers on bread and meat that disappear when the competition has gone.

Many ordinary people work in food producing companies who will see bad practice going on. I hope the Food Crime Unit will actively encourage these people to report directly to them (in confidence) when they believe something wrong is being done and not, as many other Qangos do, refuse to deal with individuals. Only then can we get swift action before the problem goes too far – the undercover reporter in the chicken processing factory no doubt got action far quicker than if we’d waited for a campylobacter outbreak.

Because Campylobacter is such a common problem we are effectively living in a continuous outbreak. It is the biggest cause of food poisoning and there may be as many as ten cases for every one that get reported. Fortunately, many of the cases are mild and many may not realise just how serious Campylobacter food poisoning can be in severe cases.

Chicken and turkey used to be expensive but intensive rearing and factory processing have allowed costs to be cut greatly. There is too much that can go wrong and the extent of the problem shows that urgent action is needed.