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Prof. Chris Elliott: one year on since my food fraud report

Horsemeat

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?.

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Comments
Guest
vickysecho says:
5 September 2015

Many of us applaud the UK for exposing the underbelly of the horsemeat trade but even the so called ‘legal’ horsemeat trade is criminal. It is not ok to submit foreign food chains to unregulated animal meat products! Almost 70% of Canada’s horsemeat is from US entirely unregulated, largely adulterated horses and the majority of Canadian horsemeat is imported by the UK. Canada cleverly determines US horses as Canadian ‘origin’ horsemeat since the US is NOT approved to ship horsemeat to the UK. The origin of the horsemeat in the horsegate scandal was never determined and therefore should never have been considered ‘safe’ for any human consumption since horse are routinely drugged with chemicals never intended for humans and very few are ever tested for even one drug. The ‘as far as we know….’ will most likely be disguised as other ailments – all stemming from horsemeat and latent effects. Vickery Eckhoff wrote an article published in newsweek “What’s in Your Horse Burger? Chemicals That Pose Serious Health Risks” 3/5/13 that is wroth reading – twice! http://www.newsweek.com/whats-your-horse-burger-chemicals-pose-serious-health-risks-62873 Exposing the horsemeat trade has opening the eyes of many to what is really happening with all food chains.