Professor Chris Elliott from Queen's University Belfast, made eight recommendations in the review published yesterday.
Elliott was asked by the secretaries of state for Defra and Health to carry out the review in light of the horsemeat fraud in 2013.
NSF International, the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply, The Institute of Food Science and Technology, Unite,The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and The Trading Standards Institute are just some of the organisations that responded to the report.
‘Don’t know the extent’
David Richardson, EMEA Food Division vice president at NSF International, said the report made clear that criminal food fraud is a serious problem ranging from relatively minor ‘casual dishonesty’ to organized crime encouraged by huge financial rewards.
“Limited intelligence means that we simply do not know the exact extent of fraud. What we do know is that it can be a cause of major food safety risks which severely undermines consumer trust in the food industry," he said.
“The Elliott report makes many sound recommendations, which if implemented effectively will provide a vastly superior coordinated approach between government and industry to tackling food fraud.
“The industry now needs expert support to translate these recommendations into practical strategies and systems to protect consumers as well as their own brands.”
‘Papering over the cracks’
David Noble, group CEO of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS) said it was welcomed but tackling the outcomes of a flawed system rather than the root causes was frustrating.
“The government’s response to the Elliott Review seems to be papering over the cracks of a broken system," he said.
“The reforms seek only to catch abuse of our supply chains once the damage has been done and there are still no controls in place to ensure supply chain managers are professional, licensed or competent.
“Ensuring that we have the right people with the rights skills to manage and monitor the system is a crucial component of our response to criminality in the supply chain but this has once again been overlooked.”
Noble said it had been calling for a licence for procurement and supply chain professionals.
“Without it, we are going to see a re-run of supply chain mismanagement time and again. It is said that a sign of madness is doing the same thing over and over again but hoping for a different result.”
‘Some areas to work through’
Jon Poole, chief executive, The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) said there are some areas to work through.
“For instance, gaining industry participation in a central intelligence resource will need considerable work if the participating stakeholders are going to be assured as to how this information will be collected and used," he said.
“Food safety and food fraud prevention very much go hand in hand and we will be working to support the Elliott report by ensuring that food safety professionals are professionally recognised and their skills maintained."
Concerned about budget cuts
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) welcomed the review but remained concerned that budget cuts will compromise effectiveness to support food crime prevention.
Graham Jukes, CIEH chief executive, said the FSA has proven an effective, independent body in ensuring consumer protection and co-ordinating and supporting local enforcement activities.
“Given the reduction in resources at a local level it is essential that this support increases and that there is clear leadership in tackling food crime. The CIEH is a well-placed organisation to drive this and looks forward to contributing to the fight against food crime,” he said.
Jenny Morris, principal policy officer, said a key theme is the need for professional collaboration and partnerships if criminals are to be defeated.
“This means sharing knowledge and skills and developing trust across sectors. Such a collaborative approach to addressing challenges underpins the recent development, by the CIEH, of the Institute of Food Safety, Integrity & Protection (IFSIP)," she said.
“Its objective is to build professional understanding and encourage innovative problem solving across public and private sectors.”
The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) welcomes the government's acceptance of the review but cautions against further cuts to trading standards.
Andy Foster, TSI's operations and policy director, said the acceptance is a major step forward for the food industry which was rocked by the horse meat scandal last year.
“While we look forward to working with the Food Standards Agency in implementing the measures we worry about what is happening at local level to trading standards officers who are responsible for ensuring food laws are followed and whose numbers have nearly halved since 2009," he said.
“The development of a UK intelligence and investigative facility specifically focussed on food crime is a very welcome move but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that responsibility for inspection and testing the food chain across the UK rests with local council officers.
“Unless something is done about restoring local enforcement capability then this could risk undermining the effectiveness of any national unit and the quality of the intelligence at their disposal."
Strengthening supply chain
Andrew Opie, director, food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the Elliott report makes a valuable contribution to strengthening supply chain.
“We particularly welcome the recognition that this requires good co-ordination along the supply chain and with governments here and in Europe and that all parties must accept and meet their responsibilities," he said.
"The retail sector has played its part by carrying out an extensive review of how we exchange intelligence, how we can tighten up testing and auditing and shorten our supply chains. The BRC itself has developed new key tools for auditing the supply chain that will strengthen controls and directly target food fraud."
David Young, partner and food safety expert at law firm Eversheds, who participated in initial consultations, said many of the recommendations are around the capture of information and how it is shared to increase knowledge and transparency.
“The most interesting and challenging recommendations are inevitably around intelligence gathering (the development of a “safe haven” to do this), an overhaul of the largely self-regulating food industry audit regime to make it more focused and effective and a positive presumption that all food incidents are treated as a risk to public health until the contrary is proved," he said.
“This last recommendation should raise the profile of the integrity of the UK food chain and keep it high.”
Benefit of food crime unit
Consumers and food industry workers would greatly benefit from the proposed food crime unit, according to Unite, the union.
Julia Long, Unite national officer for food and agriculture, said the development of a whistleblowing system to better facilitate the reporting of food crime was a step in the right direction, as many frontline workers spot the early signs of illegal activity but are too afraid to speak out.
“Illegal deduction of pay, serious breaches of health and safety, intimidation, and, in the most serious cases, trafficking and abuse run alongside the acts of fraud highlighted in the Elliott report - and they are fuelled by the same motive – profit at any cost," she said.
“Can consumers trust products from food companies that abuse their workers in this way, and from retailers who audit fruit and veg more carefully than they audit workers’ rights?
“If the nation is serious about cleaning up its food system, then trade unions need to be at the centre of these efforts – and ministers need to ensure that sufficient resources are made available to underpin the new regulatory system with the food crime unit at its heart.”
EFRA Committee meeting in Autumn
Anne McIntosh MP, chair of Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said many of the conclusions echo those made by the committee in its two reports on Contamination of Beef Products and Food Contamination.
“In particular, both the Committee and Professor Elliott raised concerns about the reduced capacity for testing in the UK and stressed the need for more Public Analysts to undertake such testing," she said.
“We also welcome the creation of a Food Crime Unit which should help to deter criminals from seeking to defraud consumers. The food and drink sector plays a crucial role in all of our lives and its integrity is of the utmost importance.”
McIntosh said Professor Elliott has agreed to give oral evidence to the Committee this autumn when we will examine his report and the government’s response to it.
Maria Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the government has dragged its heels and made no progress since it happened.
“David Cameron approved changes to the structures of government that weakened consumer protection, culminating in the horsemeat scandal," she said.
“The confusion this caused is highlighted in today’s report yet the government have totally failed to admit they got this wrong and have still not reversed the misguided decision to fragment the Food Standards Agency.
“The government must now show leadership and establish an effective food crime unit as recommended in the report that can protect the integrity of the food we eat as soon as possible.”