Food Standards Scotland is to create a new Scottish Food Crime and Incident Unit to tackle food fraud north of the border.
The new regulator – established on 1 April – is looking to recruit five members of staff for the unit but has yet to announce an official launch date.
The FSS board agreed the remit of the unit on 16 September. It will be responsible for surveillance and detection of fraud and deliberate non-compliance within the food chain in accordance with the recommendations of the Scudamore Expert Advisory Group, which was established by the Scottish government in the wake of the horsemeat scandal in 2013.
The unit will also have power to take enforcement action where necessary although the primary responsibility for dealing with food fraud at a local level will remain with local authorities and, in the case of serious organised crime, the police.
“Since FSS was created as the new public food body for Scotland, we’ve been working to develop and establish the new unit,” said FSS CEO Geoff Ogle. “It is a vital and positive step in improving Scotland’s capability and capacity in relation to tackling food crime,” he added. “Information-sharing remains critical to unearthing and dealing with food fraud, and we continue to work closely with a number of partners in Scotland and across the UK.”
Richard Lochead, the Scottish Government’s, secretary for rural affairs, food and the environment, said the new unit would give the fledgling FSS “specific expertise to tackle food fraud” which should help reassure customers our “food is safer than ever”.
When it comes to the food we eat we must put public safety first and foremost. Establishing the new unit sends out a clear message that food crime will not be tolerated in this country
“When it comes to the food we eat we must put public safety first and foremost. Establishing the new unit sends out a clear message that food crime will not be tolerated in this country,” he added.
News of the Scottish activity comes as the future capability of the UK’s FSA food crime unit remains shrouded in uncertainty.
The Grocer reported this week that the National Food Crime Unit – which was set up to great fanfare at the end of last year on the recommendation of Professor Chris Elliott’s review into food chain security – may never gain full investigation powers.
Speaking at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) conference last weekend, FSA chief operating officer Jason Feeney said food crime-related incidents were currently being investigated by local authorities and the police, and suggested this arrangement might continue.
“What the government agreed to do post-Elliot was to have two years understanding the nature of the threat and the risk, and then review that and think about whether there was a need for an additional investigative unit over and above the powers that are there already,” he said.
It followed a warning by Feeney to the FSA board earlier this month that evolving the unit into an organisation with police-style powers would require “further conversations with our Treasury colleagues”.