I spend a relatively large amount of time on the nasty topic of food crime. Sometimes researching new forms of criminal activity and finding new scientific techniques to detect it. Sometimes advising companies and governments about ways to protect their businesses, customers and citizens. Sometimes giving lectures on the subject.
It may seem a little perverse but I think it is a good time to celebrate. Food crime is an ongoing and rising threat but the UK, in my opinion, is now the best-placed country in the world to fight back. I state this based on the report I wrote for the UK government back in 2014 following the horsemeat scandal. I want to focus on two of the major recommendations I made. Firstly the establishment of the National Food Crime Unit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Food Crime & Incidents Unit. Led by former senior police officers Andy Morling and Ron McNaughton respectively, these highly professional teams can collect intelligence and carry out criminal investigations. What they now need is the full support of the UK food industry and all those who work in it. My request/plea is that they get this support.
The second reason to be cheerful is the Food Industry Intelligence Network (FiiN). This response to the Elliott Report was a very difficult and brave decision from a number of leaders in the UK food industry. A small group of highly respected technical directors from across the supply chain came together to develop the network. Nearly 30 businesses have now joined. As a FiiN board member I see the amount of effort that goes into running the network and the huge benefits to the members. I implore more businesses to join. FiiN is getting noticed in many countries, with a fair degree of envy, and I see the time when it will be a multinational food industry network that will be doing a huge amount to keep the bad guys out across Europe.
So time to celebrate? Yes. Time to relax? No. Food crime isn’t going away. Support for the government agencies and food industry network has never been more important.
Professor Chris Elliott is director of the Institute for Global Food Safety at Queen’s University, Belfast