The horsemeat contamination scandal, which saw burgers going on sale including the ingredient, prompted the review

The horsemeat contamination scandal, which saw burgers going on sale including the ingredient, prompted the review

The UK food industry is "too vulnerable" to fraud and work is needed to tackle "food crime", the head of a Government-backed review into the sector has warned.

Professor Chris Elliott of Queen's University Belfast, who lead the review, said UK consumers have access "to perhaps the safest food in the world" but "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," Prof. Elliott wrote in the initial findings of his review.

The UK government announced the review in June in the wake of the horsemeat contamination scandal earlier this year. The Government wanted Prof. Elliott to look into what it called "the systemic failure that enabled the horsemeat fraud" but also "weaknesses" across the supply chain.

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

The review also said there is a need for industry, government and enforcement agencies to "always put the needs of consumers above all other considerations".

"This means giving food safety and crime prevention absolute priority over other objectives," the report said.

Prof. Elliott also recommended "zero tolerance for food fraud", shared investment between government and industry in "intelligence gathering and sharing" and for a study into the possible establishment of a shared public laboratory service for food tests undertaken by local authorities.

The review team, which included Pat Troop, a former UK Chief Medical Officer, who was involved in the formation of the FSA, also called for changes to the way the agency is governed to make it a "more robust organisation". The recommendations included regular meetings between the FSA with the Secretaries of States for Food and Health.

The FSA said it "welcomed" the interim findings. "The need for a more coordinated and proactive approach to food crime is the principal theme of the report and Professor Elliott is right to highlight that there is a role for central government, local authorities and the food industry to play in this area," it said.

"The FSA is already working with Defra and local authorities to detect and deter food fraud. For example, we are carrying out a study to test that products which are labelled from the UK are in fact from the UK; we have introduced unannounced inspections of meat cutting plants; and we have increased to GBP2m the funding to local authorities to support their own testing programmes."