WALES HAS become the first part of the UK to establish an umbrella organisation linking the work of agencies tackling all types of food fraud.

People involved in illegal slaughter of animals in unlicensed premises, including the production of blow-torched sheep carcasses or smokies, will be key targets of the Welsh Food Fraud Co-ordination Unit.

But so, too, will criminals who clean up condemned meat for sale, pass off food as Halal or Kosher, add offal to meat products without declaring it on the label, or use illegal preservatives and colourings.

At the launch of the unit, based at Ceredigion County Council”s Aberaeron offices, co-ordinator Robert Phillips said food fraud was perpetrated when consumers were deceived into believing food they bought was fit for human consumption or of the quality they demanded.

The unit would be a link between enforcement agencies dealing with the activities of well-organised and sophisticated criminal gangs.

It would provide greater communication and partnership between the stakeholder agencies and cross-boundary co-ordination, both geographically and responsibility-based, to aid effective enforcement.

For the first time there would be a central point for the storage, analysis and dissemination of intelligence gathered by a network of enforcement officers, he added.

The unit will work closely with the Food Standards Agency. The Farmers Union of Wales welcomed the establishment of what it described as an urgently needed food crime task force.

“It will have a vital role to play protecting the wholesome image of Welsh food, and driving the criminals involved out of business,” said union president Gareth Vaughan.

“Anyone involved in this filthy trade, whether they are farmers, slaughterers or retailers, put at risk the good work of the vast majority of people involved in the food industry,”

Peredur Hughes, president of NFU Cymru, said he wanted the unit to show zero tolerance to those who sullied the reputation of Welsh food.