Elliott Report aims to tackle food crime in the UK

Fresh Ground BeefTriggered by the horsemeat scandal of 2013 and other growing concerns about the systems used to deter, identify and prosecute food adulteration in Europe, The Elliot Report was published earlier this month. The Report reviews the current integrity of the food supply network, discusses the issues impacting consumers’ confidence pertaining to the food they purchase, and suggests steps to be taken to ensure a safe, high integrity food system for the United Kingdom (UK).

Written by Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Global Institute for Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, the report outlines eight pillars of food integrity and calls the government to create a dedicated unit to tackle crime in the food industry, something the government has already reported will be operational by the end of this year. 

While the report describes UK consumers as having one of the safest food supplies in the world, Elliot argues that there is no room for complacency and that while a great deal of work has been done to ensure that Europe’s food is free from chemical and microbiological contamination, much less attention has been focused on food authenticity, food fraud and food crime.

In the report, food fraud is defined as deliberately placing food on the market, for financial gain, with the intention of deceiving the consumer. The report defines the two main types of food fraud as:
1. Sale of food which is unfit and potentially harmful, such as:

  • Recycling of animal by-products back into the food chain
  • Packing and selling of beef and poultry with an unknown origin
  • Knowingly selling goods which are past their “use by” date

2.  Deliberate inaccurate description of food, such as:

  • Products substituted with a cheaper alternative(s)
  • Making false statements about the source of ingredients, i.e. their geographic, plant or animal origin

According to the report, food fraud may also involve the sale of meat from animals that has been stolen and/or illegally slaughtered, as well as wild game animals like deer that may have been poached. Food fraud becomes a food crime when it no longer involves a few random acts by “rogues” within the food industry but becomes an organized activity perpetrated by groups who knowingly set out to deceive and or injure those purchasing a food product. Based on these factors, the eight pillars of food integrity included in the Elliot Report are as follows:

  • Consumers First: Government should ensure that the needs of consumers in relation to food safety and food crime prevention are the top priority.
  • Zero Tolerance: Where food fraud or food crime is concerned, even minor dishonesty must be discouraged and the response to major dishonesty deliberately punitive.
  • Intelligence Gathering: There needs to be a shared focus by government and industry on intelligence gathering and sharing.
  • Laboratory Services: Those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement must have access to resilient, sustainable laboratory services that use standardized, validated approaches.
  • Audit: The value of audit and assurance regimes must be recognized in identifying the risk of food crime in supply chains.
  • Government Support: Government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks should be kept specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
  • Leadership: There is a need for clear leadership and coordination of effective investigations and prosecutions relating to food fraud and food crime; the public interest must be recognized by active enforcement and significant penalties for serious food crimes.
  • Crisis Management: Mechanisms must be in place to deal effectively with any serious food safety and/or food crime incident.

Elliot also stresses the important of implementing these pillars altogether and writes that they cannot be considered in isolation if they are to improve the food system to its fullest effect.

After its release, early reactions to the Elliot Report have been positive as several published responses from the government and food industry representatives have supported the report and the commented on the importance of action already taken what is still needed from the government, regulators and other industry members.

“The changes I am recommending to regain and enhance public trust will take time to implement,” Elliot said. “Prompt and thorough implementation, however, will ensure mechanisms are in place to deter and punish criminals. If the Government-industry partnership works, it will create a robust system which will prevent a repeat of an incident like ‘Horsegate’ which had far reaching impacts, and better protect food businesses and drive consumer confidence.”

For more reactions from the report, click here.

Comments are closed.