Editor's note: The following editorial and other great articles can be found in the January/February issue of PorkNetwork, available here.
We all remember the European food fraud crisis in 2013 involving horsemeat in beef products. Criminal food fraud remains a serious problem in the international food supply chain because it insidiously transcends borders. The total scale ranges from relatively minor ‘casual dishonesty’ to organized crime encouraged by huge financial rewards. For a variety of reasons, it’s impossible to know the full extent of the problem.
The Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks suggests recommendations that require industry and government coordination to protect consumers. In the report, Professor Chris Elliott of Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, discusses issues that impact consumer confidence in the authenticity of food products, including systemic failures with implications for food safety and public health. He also suggests strategies for addressing such failures, based on eight key pillars:
- Consumers first - Industry, government and enforcement agencies must put the needs of consumers above all other considerations, especially as it relates to food safety.
- Zero tolerance - In sectors where margins are tight and the potential for fraud is high, even minor dishonesties must be discouraged.
- Intelligence gathering - Shared responsibility between government and industry in intelligence gathering and dissemination is critical.
- Laboratory services - Those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement must have access to reliable laboratory services that use standardized, tested approaches.
- Audit - Industry and regulators must give weight to audit and assurance regimes, while working to minimize duplication where possible.
- Government support - Government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks must be kept specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART).
- Leadership - Clear leadership and coordination of investigations and prosecutions is imperative. Public interest must be recognized in active enforcement, with meaningful penalties for significant food crimes.
- Crisis management - When a serious incident occurs, the necessary mechanisms must be in place so that regulators and the industry can deal with it effectively.
Food fraud is an international issue that spans borders, making it difficult to track. Awareness is the first step in recognizing and combatting food fraud. Transparency, traceability and data sharing will become increasingly important in addressing global threats that weaken consumer confidence in food products.