Sometimes getting what you want is the last thing you need. I wonder if that’s how Chris Elliott felt when the government announced on Thursday - within minutes of his final post-Horsegate report being published - that it was creating a UK food crime unit before the end of the year.
It’s a bold statement of intent from the government - or, if you’re a cynic, a masterclass in taking momentum out of an uncomfortable report. With Elliott’s most high-profile recommendation implemented so quickly, it will now be much harder to maintain interest in the report’s wider findings.
It’s important this isn’t allowed to happen. The fact the UK is getting a new food crime unit is undeniably good news, but it doesn’t settle the debate over our ability to protect ourselves from food crime. Far from it. Indeed, it is not clear to what extent the unit the government is prepared to create (and pay for!) is aligned to Elliott’s vision of the kind of unit the UK food industry actually needs.
“The new food crime unit is a start. But debate about Chris Elliott’s report mustn’t end there”
Julia Glotz, managing editor
Comparisons with the Dutch crime unit, which Elliott believes the UK’s unit should be modelled on and which has more than 100 full-time staff and a hefty multimillion pound budget, certainly don’t look too encouraging. And as we set out in our analysis this week, the fact the UK unit is only being set up on a trial basis and isn’t being given any new government money is already raising eyebrows.
At the same time, the government can justifiably argue the modest trial format it has agreed to is entirely appropriate - it allows for the concept of a food crime unit to be explored (over two years, a decent amount of time) without prematurely committing to extravagant levels of public spending.
Whatever the rationale, arriving at a strong, capable, well resourced food crime unit is in everyone’s interest. The food and drink industry is among the UK’s most valuable sectors - and one that increasingly thrives on the trust of export partners around the world.
To maintain the confidence of consumers here in the UK and abroad, it will need a crime-busting agency with real bite.