The coordination and standardisation of audits was one of the eight pillars of food integrity I made within the Elliott Report. The audit burden to industry remains substantial, is largely repetitive in content and delivers little by way of additional protection to businesses or consumers. To me this is very disappointing. I also hear of the huge frustrations from some food manufacturers, particularly those with a longstanding BRC compliance record that participate in the BRC unannounced audit programme, yet have to undergo a plethora of ‘me too’ audits that deliver nothing except a cheque to the auditors.
So who is the loser in the ‘déjà vu auditing system’ in the UK? To me it’s the consumer who is picking up the tab for poor industry practice. I fully recognise that audits are commercially sensitive, however a large portion of audits seek to assess the fundamental requirements of food safety, traceability, integrity, ethical and animal welfare standards. The BRC audit itself, BMPA pork scheme, organic, Red Tractor, ethical, EHO and FSA audits are all good examples. So what could change for the better?
I’m a great fan of using ‘big data analytics’ and IT such as blockchain to improve the integrity of the global food system. It would benefit all stakeholders if the outcomes of all these audits were available in an ‘open book’ embedded in a secure blockchain that would allow stakeholders to carry out a meaningful risk assessment of supply chains. Any ‘add-on audits’ could dive into specific areas, be shorter in duration, and put in place strong foundations for the ‘earned recognition’ we hear so much about.
This would also facilitate a joined-up approach by our food industry in areas of a non-competitive nature. Surely in Brexit times we need to mitigate food inflation and this scheme will bring about cost reductions yet better protect consumers. Such a system would be world leading and no doubt help drive exports. I know this from helping to develop the unique Food Fortress in the Northern Ireland feed industry. The UK food industry continues to display leadership in the Food Industry Intelligence Network so who might be willing to step up to the mark on this one?
Chris Elliott is director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast