Professor Elliott has – in a short space of time – dug deep into the opaque reaches of our global food system. What he found was a distinct lack of resources available to investigate, regulate and prosecute criminals seeking to make a profit from adulterating the food we eat.
Experts decried the Coalition government’s move to strip the Food Standards Agency of many of its powers and much of its budget. This report suggests those experts were right to be unhappy. Professor Elliott argues that the FSA needs to be given more resources and power to challenge criminal activity in the food system, including:
- A specialist ‘Food Crime Unit’, with the expertise to undertake investigations into serious food fraud, hosted by the FSA; and, crucially,
- The FSA, whilst remaining as a non-Ministerial department, must be made more robust by changing its governance arrangements.
Professor Elliott points out that responsibility for safety in the food system must also be shared by supermarkets. He says that aggressive supermarket buying practices and “too good to be true” cheap offers undermine the integrity of the food supply chain.
We welcome his recommendation that food retailers should be held criminally liable if they sell mislabelled meat to consumers. We believe this will ensure that they take responsibility for their own supply chains.
However, the Food Ethics Council believes that as well as making it harder for criminals to operate in food networks, we need to tackle the drivers of ‘cheap’ food.
Dan Crossley, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council said:
“We’ve long argued that in order to make progress towards a safe and sustainable food system, consumers need to understand that so-called ‘cheap’ food is not actually cheap at all.
"There are huge social and environmental costs in producing food that’s cheap at the supermarket till – like costs to human health and animal welfare that were all too evident in the horsemeat scandal.”
We look forward to reading Professor Elliott’s full report, which is due out in spring 2014. We hope that the government and food businesses will take note of his recommendations in order to protect the integrity and assurance of the food on our plates.