On 4 September 2014 the final version of the Elliot report into food integrity and assurance of food supply networks was published. The report was commissioned by the government in the wake of the horse meat incident last year which had highlighted the importance of a transparent food chain.

The report examines ways to prevent food fraud incidents and to improve the culture of the food supply chain in Britain. These changes are intended to support the food industry taking responsibility for the traceability of their products, which should in turn improve consumers' understanding of where their food comes from. The report specifically focuses on food crime and the need for the UK to improve the systems that it has in place to respond to criminals targeting the food industry.  

The report makes the following eight core recommendations for industry and government:

  • Food safety and authenticity should be a priority to ensure that the needs of consumers are put first
  • A zero tolerance approach to food fraud should be adopted, which encourages members of the food industry to ask "searching questions" and includes provisions that protect whistleblowers
  • Intelligence–gathering should be made a key focus
  • Public laboratory services should be protected
  • Auditing should be improved so that it is more effective. Third party accreditation bodies should carry out food sampling during unannounced audits
  • The government should improve its support for tackling food crime by improving its support for the Food Standards Authority (FSA) and "re-affirming its commitment to an independent Food Standards Agency"
  • A dedicated food crime unit should be created by the FSA
  • Improved mechanisms should be put in place to better deal with crisis management.

The government responded to the recommendations of the report by announcing the establishment of a new food crime unit. The environment secretary Elizabeth Truss said this would "strengthen consumer confidence in Britain's high quality food". In the press release announcing the new unit, the government accepted all of the recommendations made in the report.

The report notes "food fraud may be costing UK food businesses a substantial amount of money and risks causing significant reputation of damage.  Importantly, some of the examples uncovered pose food safety risks.  However, due to factors such as lack of intelligence-based detection, the scale of the problem remains unknown". It recognises that the recommendations made in the report "will not stop food crime", but that the recommendations should make it more difficult for criminals to operate in the UK.

Caroline Hart