FOOD firms caught up in future scandals such as the horsemeat controversy should face jail or heavy fines, a group of Scottish Government-appointed experts has found.
Nobody has faced court action in the UK in the aftermath of the horsemeat revelations.
A report published by a Holyrood-appointed Expert Advisory Group (EAG) said Scotland should now have a specialised Crown prosecutor in food safety amid concerns that the current penalties were not deterring the threat of fraud.
The horsemeat scandal, which broke in January, has “shaken consumer confidence in the food industry”, according to the group’s report.
Food inspectors should also be handed new, hardline powers to seize and destroy suspect food, the report said, after it emerged that horsemeat had found its way into school, hospital and pub meals.
The report found that the controversy had been “well handled” in Scotland.
But the group, headed by former chief vet Jim Scudamore, said there were currently “difficulties” in taking food safety cases to court in Scotland.
“Even when successful, the penalties imposed tend neither to be a deterrent nor financially proportionate to the reward,” the report said. “Meaningful fines or custodial penalties need to accompany serious food fraud otherwise it will continue to be seen as a relatively risk-free enterprise.”
Public health minister Michael Matheson said it was “reassuring” that the group had found the scandal had been handled well in Scotland.
But he added: “The study also found that a wide spectrum of lessons could be identified from the horsemeat issue. From developing a better understanding of the supply chain, to improving surveillance and consumer engagement, we must now work to make sure that we can deliver the best possible food standards and safety regime for Scotland.”