The Food Standards Agency is taking steps to crush the hazardous trade in illegal food products and improve consumer safety by creating a Food Fraud Task Force.
It will scrutinise the current controls in place to detect food fraud, as well as assessing their suitability and effectiveness in deterring it. Findings could lead to new safeguards, tighter regulation and labelling technology changes.
The move follows the Denby meat trial in 2003, when a multi-agency investigation smashed a large-scale fraud operation in Derbyshire, in which sub-standard poultry meat was being recycled back into the food chain, and sold at supermarkets, schools and hospitals.
Dr Philip Barlow, former associate professor of food science and technology at the National University of Singapore, will chair the task force. He said: "There are always a few individuals who will, for personal gain, try to pass off suspect food as meeting the required standards."
The fresh meat sector will be the first to fall under the task force's spotlight. It is one of the most strictly regulated sectors, but also the sector of choice for fraudsters due to its higher profit margins. The most common forms of fraud are the passing off of poor-grade and often bruised meat as a higher-grade product. There have also been cases where petfood grade meat has been passed off as fit for human consumption.
Lessons learned from fresh meat will be applied to the rest of the food industry.
Members of the task force will be drawn from experts at the FDF, the BRC and the Trading Standards Institute.
David Statham, FSA director of enforcement, said: "It is clear that some current processes could, and should, be tightened."