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Horsemeat scandal review calls for food crime unit to be set up

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When the horsemeat scandal broke at the start of the year many believed that international organized crime groups might be to blame for the contamination that led to adulterated beef burgers, lasagna and ready-made meals being removed from supermarket shelves.

The authorities with some difficulty traced the provenance of the tainted beef, but the scandal also raised serious questions about the safety and transparency of the food supply chain.

In the wake of the scandal, a government commissioned interim review by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs(DEFRA) and the Department of Health has made a number of recommendations, including the establishment of a dedicated Food Crime Unit that should be set up in the UK.

The Interim Report of the Elliot Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks was carried out by Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security and Queen’s University Belfast.

The report highlights that the UK has high standards of food safety, but it also identifies that complex and widespread food crime is a threat to consumer confidence and the reputation of food businesses.

“The UK has some of the highest standards of food safety in the world. Food production is a global industry and we need to ensure that our high standards are maintained across the whole supply chain,” said Prof Elliott.

“The horsemeat crisis clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain and while the next stage of my review will gather more evidence on this it is right that measures are in place to further protect consumers. The food industry and the government are already striving to achieve this.”

Prof Elliott has recommended that the food industry and Government create "intelligence hubs" to gather and analyze information about food crime and that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) should have a “major role to play partnering these efforts."

He also added that the new police unit be set up independently from the Home Office, to fight “complex food crime perpetrated by highly organized and dangerous, potentially violent organized crime groups”.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has claimed that the government has already taken some steps following the Eliott review.

The FSA also added in a statement: "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 £2 million the funding to local authorities to support their own testing programmes."

Elliott's final report with more detailed recommendations will be published next year.

So far there have been no successful prosecutions relating to the horsemeat scandal in the UK.

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