Food Safety Crime Criminal

The FSA’s National Food Crime Unit needs up to £8m extra a year if it is to protect UK consumers and keep the food sector safe, and should have full investigatory powers, the FSA board has said.

The board this week accepted proposals – laid out in an independent review by UK Anti-Doping Agency chairman David Kenworthy – to push for the NFCU to be given full investigatory powers and a significant increase on its current £1.25m budget. It will now prepare a business case for the government.

The board agreed there was “no need” to push for new powers through primary legislation, which would be particularly problematic due to the government’s focus on Brexit, but it could instead use existing powers and collaborate with other law enforcement agencies.

However, it cautioned pressing ahead without additional government funding risked creating significant “reputational risk” to the FSA.

“Doing this on a half-baked basis would be very risky,” warned board member Ram Gidoomal. Upgrading the NFCU’s capabilities should not be a “negotiation or compromise”, added chairman Heather Hancock. “We would not be willing to take additional responsibility for tackling food fraud without the correct resources.”

The unit had “turned out some good intelligence on food crime”, since launching just under two years ago, said Kenworthy, but there was now a need for it to investigate cases. “That’s where the system currently falls down, as trading standards offices are being pulled from pillar to post and simply don’t have the time, resources or training to investigate.”

There would be industry support for extra funding, said the unit’s architect, food crime expert Professor Chris Elliott. “But without government support there’s a fair chance the unit will fold and every chance it will not function at the level it needs to in order to protect UK consumers and the food industry.”