Beware due diligence issues post-horsegate – lawyer

By Rod Addy contact

- Last updated on GMT

Due diligence has weaknesses and isn’t a perfect defence against food fraud, despite offering firms legal protection, Dominic Watkins, partner and head of food at law firm DWF has warned.

Watkins was a panellist for Food Manufacture​’s Big Video Debate, Horsegate: one year on​ at the Foodex trade show, which ran from March 24–26 at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. The debate asked whether a food fraud scandal similar to horsegate could recur and how firms could protect themselves.

“The phrase is due diligence … is there a definition, is there a list of things one can do? No there’s not,”​ Watkins told in this exclusive video held directly after the debate.

“The reality is you need to have your contracts in place with your suppliers, you need to know what you’re buying, where you’re buying it from and who you’re buying it from and then do checks and audits to ensure you’re getting what you expect to get.

‘Just a snapshot in time’

“The risk of course is any audit is just a snapshot in time – it’s simply what is happening on that day and doesn’t give you the viewpoint 365 days a year.”

However, it was still important to ensure due diligence processes were taken seriously and were robust, said Watkins. That could include introducing additional testing, covering areas such as DNA speciation, he added.

And Watkins again stressed the need for better enforcement, rather than changes and additions to legislation. That required more resources and more analysts on the ground, he said.

“ … We’ve seen over the last five years with austerity measures … local authorities no longer have the budgets they once did to carry out testing … And at the sharp end we’ve seen cutbacks from enforcers, we’ve seen enforcers less able to do the amount of checks they would have done, which perhaps might mean that in certain areas of the sector things are being missed.”

Meanwhile, during the debate, fellow panellist and former Food Standards Agency boss Jeff Rooker argued forcefully​ that responsibility for food competition and adulteration should be returned urgently to the agency to protect public safety.

Related topics: Policy

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