A specialist food crime unit should be established in the UK following the horsemeat scandal, a government-funded report has recommended.
The unit, which could be hosted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the independent food safety watchdog, would investigate reports of serious food fraud.
Both food industry and government should create “intelligence hubs” to gather, analyse and disseminate information about food crime.
And the report also suggests that data collection and well-structured surveys should be considered by both government and industry “as a matter of urgency” to fill the knowledge gap of the extent of criminal activity within the UK food supply chain.
The recommendations are put forward in an interim report by Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Security at Queen’s University, in Belfast.
In May, Professor Elliott was commissioned by DEFRA to look at how the safety and authenticity of food supplies in the UK can be protected.
The 2013 horsemeat scandal, which is ongoing in Europe, discovered that adulterated foods advertised as containing beef were found to contain horsemeat, as much as 100% in cases.
Millions of meat products were withdrawn from supermarket shelves in the UK and Europe and shoppers’ confidence in the meat sector was dented.
“The UK has some of the highest standards of food safety in the world. Food production is a global industry and we need to ensure that our high standards are maintained across the whole supply chain,” said Prof Elliott.
“The horsemeat crisis clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain and while the next stage of my review will gather more evidence on this it is right that measures are in place to further protect consumers. The food industry and the government are already striving to achieve this.”
Commenting on the interim report, DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson said: “It is appalling that anyone was able to defraud the public by passing off horsemeat as beef. That is why I commissioned an urgent review into the integrity of our food network.
“The UK food industry already has robust procedures to ensure they deliver high quality food to consumers and food businesses have a legal duty to uphold the integrity of food they sell.
“It is rightly highly regarded across the world and we must not let anything undermine this or the confidence of consumers in the integrity of their food.
“We will continue to work closely with the food industry, enforcement agencies and across local and central government to improve intelligence on food fraud and our response to it.”
Work on the review will continue into 2014, with further discussions with government, industry and other groups on how these first recommendations can be implemented.
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