The UK government has launched a review into the country’s “food system” in the wake of the horsemeat contamination scandal this year.
The Government said the study would look at “weaknesses in food supply networks” that could affect food safety and public health.
The review will also focus on consumer confidence in the authencity of food, which was rocked by the horsemeat saga earlier this year. The presence of horsemeat in products from burgers to lasagne did not become a food safety issue but hit confidence in parts of the sector. Sales of ready meals, for example, slumped in the weeks after the contamination first emerged.
Professor Chris Elliott of Queen’s University Belfast will lead the review, which will also look at what caused what the government called “the systemic failure that enabled the horsemeat fraud”.
The review, which starts this month, could recommend whether changes to regulations are needed. Prof. Elliott could also suggest ways in which various institutions – industry, government, the regulator and the EU – better work together.
Yesterday, Professor Pat Troop, vice chair of Cambridge University Hospitals and a former chief executive of the Health Protection Agency, presented her findings into how the regulator, The Food Standards Agency, handled the horsemeat contamination scandal. Her findings included a recommendation for improved sharing of “intelligence” and analysis across the sector.
Reflecting on the Government’s decision to review the causes of the horsemeat contamination and the wider food system, Owen Paterson, the UK’s Environment Secretary, said: “Consumers have the right to know that the food they’re eating contains what it says on the label. Food fraud is completely unacceptable and those who engage in it are criminals. As well as pursuing them to the full extent of the law, we must also address any weaknesses in our food system.”
Prof. Elliott is a professor of food safety at Queen’s and is also the director of the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS), which the university set up in March.
He said: “Our shared challenge is to prove to the public that they can trust the systems that put food on their plate.”
The review will start this month and could take a year to complete. Interim findings will be submitted in December, with a final report set for next spring.
In March, when the IGFS was launched, just-food’s Ben Cooper spoke to Prof. Elliott about the new institute and his thoughts on the horsemeat scandal. Click here for more.