The Food Crime Unit: An opportunity to bury the hatchet?

The FSA’s new Food Crime Unit wants the industry to share information, some of which is sensitive, in order to tackle the ongoing problem of food fraud. The FCU faces a challenge – a lack of trust; a deep rooted suspicion of what penalties or media coverage may ensue as a result of sharing and cooperation.

Professor Chris Elliot’s Report into the 2013 horsemeat scandal recognised this challenge and recommended the adoption of a ”safe haven” approach where manufacturers could share information in confidence with an independent body that would then sort and filter information into intelligence to be used by the new Crime Unit. The report was also in favour of an intelligence hub to allow sharing of information between enforcement organisations.

Data Exchange Concept

There is a recognition by the FCU that, for this to work, manufacturers need to be provided with such a “safe haven”, but how do you convince them it is truly safe? In a recent statement, John Barnes, Head of the FSA’s Local Delivery Division said, “We’ve got to build the networks and you’ve got to trust us.”

But many retailers would argue that trust has to be earned before sensitive information is divulged. The government and Food Crime Unit has a similar capability although their remit is significantly wider, from retailer suppliers through to every small cafe and mobile catering facility. Fraud can occur at any level and has more often been in those smaller businesses that either struggle financially or find it very easy to slip through the net.

Risk Plan

Many retailers have opted for a more holistic method to supply chain management, requiring the adoption of minimum standards within Quality Management Systems, supported by more frequent and unannounced audits, quality training and partnership development with suppliers. As a result they are uncovering more issues and blocking those avenues of risk within their supply chains. Interesting to note that much of this method is recommended in Professor Elliot’s review as part of the “Eight Pillar” approach. So maybe the FSA could learn from this partnership between manufacturers and retailers?

Tracey Cranney, Operations Manager at QADEX said, “We need greater integration between public and private sectors to reduce the risk to the supply chain. To form an alliance if not a partnership, closing the gaps – they are our greatest weakness.  Food fraud is like an infectious disease – it must be identified, isolated and firmly treated before it has the opportunity to spread.”

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About QADEX: Enabling step change improvement in food safety and brand protection, QADEX Vision brings every aspect of food safety, quality management systems, compliance, customers and new product development together in one simple dashboard.