Footprint’s pre-Christmas forum “Food authenticity in foodservice: risk and regulation” in association with Leatherhead Food showed the industry has some catching up to do if it wants to stay one step ahead of criminals working in the supply chain. Here are five take-away messages from the event.
- Foodservice is exposed. The week before he chaired the December forum, Footprint associate editor Nick Hughes had a chat with Professor Chris Elliott (the man who produced the post horsemeat “Review into the integrity and assurance of food supply chains” for the UK government). “If I were a fraudster looking at the UK market, foodservice is the area I’d target,” Professor Elliott warned. Others also advised businesses to be on their guard, not least with local authorities “hugely under-resourced” and the levels of sampling continuing to decline.
- Opportunity knocks … everywhere. “The potential for fraud is much wider than I thought,” admitted Professor Tony Hines, head of corporate services and crisis management at Leatherhead Food Research. Hines described how “just about any ingredient can be at risk of dilution, substitution or adulteration”, whilst Andy Morling, head of the Food Standards Agency’s Food Crime Unit (FCU), suggested that one of the reasons the horsemeat scandal occurred was because the industry was “generally too trusting”.
- Serious safety concerns. Hines at Leatherhead suggested that, in terms of safety at least, the food industry “got away with horsegate, but we may not get away with it next time”. Parmesan and scones bulked out with bits of cardboard or beefburgers with some horsemeat are at one end of the scale, but at the other there is vodka made with antifreeze. The impact of food fraud isn’t always acute, either. “Could more subtle substitution have a long-term effect [on consumer health]? Morling wondered. “We don’t know about the long-term impact.”
- No Brexit fraud boom. A plummeting pound, rising food prices and concerns relating to post-Brexit intelligence sharing would appear to create the perfect conditions for food fraudsters. However, FCU’s Morling said he isn’t losing any sleep over this at the moment. ”One thing I’ve been quite keen to ensure is that we have continued access to intelligence units in Member States,” he explained. “I am fairly confident we will still have [that access].” The House of Lords EU home affairs sub-committee is not so sure.
- Trust the regulators. What is keeping Morling awake is how to engage better with industry. He admitted that it’s been tough convincing retailers and manufacturers, as well as those working for them, to blow the whistle when they suspect there’s something dodgy going on in their supply chains. “Food fraud generally requires people to make it happen,” he explained, “ and it is those people that provide my unit with their very best leads. We will pay [for information that leads to results] if I have my way,” he added. Having spent the first 18 months focusing on manufacturing and retail, the unit’s attention will now turn to foodservice.