Professor Elliott’s Review recognises the strengths of the UK supply chain but also correctly identifies the change in mindset required to ensure the correct focus on authenticity alongside safety in the supply chain.
The reason the report is relevant is because Elliott took the time to understand the industry and work with it to see how improvements could be made.
Of course, retailers haven’t waited for the report to implement changes, and it was good to see the industry’s proactivity was acknowledged.
”Retailers have continued to refine authenticity test programmes”
Horsegate prompted a comprehensive review of supply chains and controls, by both shortening supply chains and increasing auditing. Retailers have taken more control over the whole process, supported by increased traceability and targeted testing. Although many have called for increased testing, Elliott understands this needs to be based on reliable intelligence. Retailers have continued to refine their authenticity testing and the way we gather intelligence.
On intelligence, we have made some good strides to improve the exchange of information between parts of the UK industry but more is needed to improve the flow of intelligence from Europe. This was clearly a problem in the horsemeat scandal and needs to be improved.
In Europe the Food Fraud Taskforce, a group formed by the European Commission, is working on food fraud issues. All member states have seconded a government official to this group and we would have liked to have seen attention drawn to sharing more intelligence with the EU.
Elliott made a number of recommendations on auditing including the development of a core food safety and integrity audit, a call for standard owners to develop additional food fraud prevention and detection modules, and he encouraged industry to carry out fewer but more effective audits.
We have reflected these points in the revision of the BRC’s Global Food Standard. The latest version will be launched in January 2015 and includes a section to help businesses assess their vulnerability to fraud. It also addresses the issue of multiple audits by providing the opportunity to reduce them by using voluntary retailer audit modules. To facilitate this, the BRC is launching a digital platform called BRC Participate. This will enable retailers and other buyers to link specific company requirements to the BRC core standard. We will also offer a dedicated module in addition to food safety next year using specialist auditing skills to forensically examine traceability.
One area we would disagree with is the suggestion retailers’ procurement practices risk a repeat of Horsegate. Retailers don’t take such a foolhardy approach and risk compromising quality - the risk of damage to a retailer’s overall brand from trying to get a short-term cheap deal makes this completely counterproductive commercially.
That aside, I agree with Elliott’s summary that a strong government-industry partnership can produce a robust system that protects food businesses and ensures consumer confidence.
Andrew Opie is director of food and sustainability at the BRC