chris elliott quote web

In my last article for The Grocer, I wrote about fraud in the herbs and spices supply chains entering the UK and the associated risks. I do the same this time but with a much better outlook.

In the past week, a document has been published called Guidance on Authenticity of Herbs and Spices. This was written by representatives of the British Retail Consortium, Food & Drink Federation and the Seasoning and Spice Association. The FSA and FSS were both involved in the development of the project.

To have such a best practice document produced is a clear indication the UK food industry is working together in a much better way than ever before in terms of protecting consumers from fraud. However, what impressed me even more is the quality of the guidelines produced. I had expected a bit of what’s gone before in such guidelines - ‘know your suppliers’, ‘think like criminals’ and so on - but this goes much further. It’s a well-described nine-point plan that I can’t find any holes in (and I looked hard). While no plan is ever foolproof, the UK herbs and spices industry - if it sticks to its own guidelines - will be in a substantially better place than ever before in terms of deterring fraud.

Then my thoughts turned to the excellent Food Industry Information Network, which I help advise in a small way. The network is gaining momentum and starting to share sensitive information about testing programmes for authenticity. Again, this is a huge step in the right direction. As the FiiN membership increases and the level of sampling and testing undertaken becomes increasingly co-ordinated, I can start to see enormous potential for industry sectors to use the herbs and spices guidelines as a template and to link this with the FiiN in terms of sharing responsibility for having the most robust and cost-effective authenticity monitoring programme in the world.

Food fraud is perpetrated by organised criminal networks but when an entire industry comes together and is well supported by the regulators, my feeling is that the criminals will go elsewhere to try and make their dishonest crust.

Professor Chris Elliott is director of the Institute of Food Safety at Queen’s University, Belfast