Horsemeat: UK food crime unit urged

Tray of horsemeatAttempts to pass off horsemeat as beef prompted outrage

A specialist food crime unit should be set up in the UK in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, a government-commissioned review has recommended.

The suggestion is contained in a report by Prof Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast.

He was asked to find ways of improving the safety of UK food supply networks.

The scandal erupted in January, when food inspectors found horsemeat in processed beef products.

After that initial discovery, horse DNA was then found in other ready meals.

Prof Elliott said the food industry should not relax efforts to provide safe food, “but must also consider the prevention of food crime a primary objective”.

He also called on the food industry and the government to create “intelligence hubs” to gather, analyse and spread information about food crime.

‘Criminal activity’

“The UK has some of the highest standards of food safety in the world,” said Prof Elliott.

“Food production is a global industry and we need to ensure that our high standards are maintained across the whole supply chain.

“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.”

The horsemeat scandal resulted in product recalls by a number of supermarkets and food producers, both in the UK and across Europe, and threw the spotlight on the food industry’s supply chain.

In May, Prof Elliott’s report was commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Health.

In response to the interim report, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “I am pleased that Prof Elliott’s interim review recognises that there are good systems in place to ensure UK consumers have access to some of the safest food in the world. We want to keep it that way.

“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.”

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