A NATIONAL food crime unit is to be set up by the UK Government in a bid to stamp out fraudulent activity in the industry in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.
The decision is one of a raft of measures agreed by the government following the publication of a report into the controversy by food security expert Professor Chris Elliott.
Unnanounced spot checks on the food industry and the development of a whistleblowing system that would better facilitate the reporting of food crime will also be adopted by the government in a bid to ensure there could be no repeat of the horsemeat scandal, which saw meats such as beef contaminated with product from horses and sold in stores across Europe.
Improving laboratory testing capacity and capability to ensure a standardised approach for testing for food authenticity and better targeted testing, intelligence gathering and surveys will also be introduced as a result of the recommendations.
Professor Elliott called for the new unit to be “robust” and “effective” to protect the industry and consumers from criminal activity and support better links with food crime agencies across the EU and beyond.
Consumer groups welcomed the move, which they said should be implemented as soon as possible.
“It is only right the Government has accepted the Elliott Review findings and recognised that consumers must be put first if we are to restore trust in the food industry following the horsemeat scandal,” said Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd.
“It’s in the interests of responsible food businesses, as well as consumers, to make sure there are effective controls in place and a zero tolerance approach to food crime. We now want the Government to quickly implement all of the recommendations so consumers can be confident in the food they buy.”
Announcing the plans, environment secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “We’re taking action to make sure that families can have absolute confidence in the food that 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.
“The action we’re taking gives more power to consumers - meaning they’ve got better labelling on food, better education about where their food comes from, and better, locally-sourced food in schools and hospitals.”