It’s the anniversary of the publication of Professor Chris Elliott’s final report on the integrity and assurance of food. Here’s Prof. Elliott himself on the progress that’s been made since.
My review was undertaken as a direct consequence of the horsemeat scandal that rocked the UK, and indeed world, back in 2013.
This is a good time to take stock of where things are, at least from my perspective in terms of better protecting the UK public from criminal activity in our food supply system.
Progress since the horsemeat scandal
We all know that reports come and reports go and that today’s headlines become fish and chip wrappers tomorrow. The raging price wars among the UK multiple retailers continue, the escalating issue of obesity in the UK is taking more centre stage (thankfully) and of course we have a new government. So plenty of things to occupy people’s attention and reduce the need or ability to think about the issues of cheating and criminal activity in our food supply system.
However, in many ways I find the opposite to be true. I have retained quite a bit of contact with many areas of the food industry who are working towards trying to understand their vulnerability to food fraud and develop measures to prevent their exposure to it. The food industry itself has set up a number of important mechanisms for sharing information on suspected food fraud that simply would not have happened before the horsemeat scandal.
So I believe the issue is being taken a lot more seriously and this is without doubt the correct approach.
National Food Crime Unit
On the government front, there’s now the cross-government working group on food integrity and food crime chaired by George Eustice. I’m told this is very much helping to bring together the various elements of the public service that was sadly lacking prior to horse-gate.
The National Food Crime Unit is now also operational and lead by a well-respected former senior police officer. Questions are already being asked about what they are up to and if they are being effective in finding and deterring criminal activity in our food system. From my perspective it’s of the utmost important that they are given time and resource to develop an operational capacity and not have to go for a quick win to show their worth.
We’re not out of the woods yet
I finish with a strong note of caution. If you look at the articles Which? has published about food fraud happening in the UK since the scandal and realise that fraud in food supplies is perpetrated by criminal gangs globally then, it’s clear we have still a major challenge ahead.
In many ways we got lucky with horse-gate as it was for many their first exposure to what can go wrong when cheats are at work and systems are not in place to deter and detect. However, as far as we know the health and wellbeing of UK citizens was not affected this time round.
Without the necessary level of vigilance, without the necessary level of resourcing, without a continued change in the culture of the UK food industry and our government’s reaffirmation that they will protect our citizens from food criminals it may happen again. And if it does, our luck may run out.
This is guest contribution from Professor Chris Elliott, author of the Elliott Review. All opinions expressed here are Chris’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.