Farmers and food suppliers could suffer the cost of stamping out food fraud in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, a food industry expert has warned.
Following the publication of the Elliott report, Duncan Swift, of accountancy firm Moore Stephens, said the UK had a “huge problem” with food fraud, but the precise extent of the problem remained unknown.
Traceability, assurance procedures and anti-fraud resources would all be necessary to reassure consumers, he added.
But Mr Swift said many of these measures would carry a substantial extra cost and were seen by many in the government as additional red tape.
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“The government will not want these costs to hit consumers so they will have to be absorbed by the food supply chain,” he added.
And, with the supermarkets holding the whip hand in their relationship with suppliers, it’s the farmers and food suppliers and processors who are likely to be footing the bill.”
Mr Swift, a business recovery adviser to food supply and processing companies, said farmers were already struggling with wafer thin profit margins, so any extra costs could trigger a wave of insolvencies.
“That would ultimately be bad news for consumers because it would reduce choice on the supermarket shelves and could even lead to higher prices because of less competition,” he warned.
He urged farmers and processors to get ahead of the game by improving and demonstrating their traceability and validation of all the products and ingredients they use.
This would bring them into line with any new regulation the government may introduce in the wake of the Elliott review, he added, and improve sales and profit margins as consumers become increasingly aware of food provenance.
In response to the long-awaited review, published on Thursday (5 September), the government announced it would be setting up a dedicated unit to tackle food fraud.
The creation of a unit to tackle food fraud in the supply chain was one of the key recommendations made in the review by Professor Chris Elliott, of Queen’s University Belfast.
“I believe the creation of the national food crime prevention framework will ensure measures are put in place to further help protect consumers from any food fraud incidents in the future,” said Prof Elliott.
The government said consumer confidence would be strengthened by the creation of the unit.
Defra secretary Liz Truss said: “We’re taking action to make sure that families can have absolute confidence in the food they buy.
“When a shopper picks something up from a supermarket shelf it should be exactly what it says on the label, and we’ll crack down on food fraudsters trying to con British consumers.”