UK: Government working to block "criminal threat" - Environment Secretary

By Katy Askew | 13 December 2013

Paterson says Government has responded to criminal threat

Paterson says Government has responded to criminal threat

UK Food Secretary Owen Paterson has stressed the Government is working to keep the country's food sector "ahead of the game" on food adulteration by blocking "criminals" targeting the industry.

"We see there are criminals moving in on the food industry. It is a huge industry and we want to get ahead of the game," Paterson told just-food yesterday (12 December). "Our food supply chains can be targeted by criminals.... Any food adulteration is unacceptable."

Paterson's comments came in response to the publication of the Government-backed report into the UK food supply chain in the wake of this year's horsemeat contamination scandal. The report concluded UK consumers have access "to perhaps the safest food in the world". However, it added "a range of weaknesses" across the supply chain left the industry open to fraudsters.

"The UK food industry is currently too vulnerable to criminals wishing to perpetrate fraud. We need a culture within businesses involved in supplying food that focusses on depriving those who seek to deceive consumers. Government, and in particular a more robust Food Standards Agency, has a major role to play partnering these efforts," Professor Chris Elliott of Queen's University Belfast wrote.

Prof. Elliott, who is leading the review, will publish his final report next spring but his interim findings made a number of recommendations including the establishment of a dedicated "food crime unit" within the UK's Food Standards Agency.

Paterson would not be drawn on what action the Government would take on Prof. Elliott's recommendations. "When he presents his full report in two-to-three months time we will be able to take a closer look at the proposals," he said.

However, Paterson emphasised the Government has already moved to tighten the regulatory net. "It is an interim report, but there are some really interesting ideas, some of which we have already introduced. We want better intelligence of what is going on - there is already an intelligence centre in the FSA. We want more random testing - there has already been 750 random, unannounced tests of meat businesses," he stressed.

Paterson was also quick to talk up the positive aspects of the report and insisted the UK food industry "actually came out very well".

"We were miles ahead of the game in Europe... We helped organise the emergency summit of key member states. Our FSA was the first national organisation to go in and speak to Europol. We saw that horsemeat was an international scandal. We did far more testing than any other country and we came out lowest, we had less contamination. And since then we have introduced 30,000 tests. All were negative. So the first conclusion of the Elliott report is emphatically that British food is the safest in the world, British retailers are some of the most responsible in the world, selling good safe food."

Speaking at an export forum organised by the UK Food and Drink Exporters Association, Paterson suggested the comparative strength of the UK supply chain is something the industry should leverage to grow overseas sales.

"What we should do is really trumpet the quality of what we have got. Don't underestimate the food scares in other countries - in China they are very conscious of food safety, they have had terrible problems with melamine in milk. They are very conscious. My three points are that we have very high quality systems of traceability, rigorous production systems which are well monitored and a key thing, we have great food that tastes really good. Those are the key selling points."

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