LONDON Dec 12 Supermarkets and other food
sellers should be held criminally liable if they sell
mislabelled meat to customers, according to a
government-commissioned study on Thursday launched in the wake
of a horsemeat scandal.
In an interim report, Chris Elliott, director of the
Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University
Belfast, said the UK food sector was at risk of being
infiltrated by criminals looking for huge profits.
He said the 188 billion pound ($310 billion) food and drinks
industry was a "soft touch for criminals at the moment" with a
worrying lack of knowledge about the extent of criminal activity
in the industry and little chance of offenders being detected.
Elliott called for the establishment of a food crime unit to
prevent fraud through increased intelligence-gathering, testing,
and coordinating with other government departments.
"I believe criminal networks have begun to see the potential
for huge profits and low risks in this area. The food industry
and thus consumers are currently vulnerable," Elliott said in
Elliott was commissioned by the government in June to look
at any weaknesses in the food supply chain in Britain after the
discovery in January of horsemeat sold as beef in frozen burgers
and lasagnas in British and Irish supermarkets, including those
run by market leader Tesco.
The scandal raised questions about the safety of the
European food supply supply.
Elliott, finding regulators had struggled to keep up with
the complexity of the chain, said there should be zero tolerance
over food fraud.
He outlined a series of ways that organised criminals can
profit from the food chain due to inadequate enforcement of
regulations. Examples included substituting fish with a cheaper
species and adulterating products with other species.
"If meat is labelled as low-fat beef from England suitable
for home freezing, it should be accepted by its sellers that
they will be considered to be dishonest and criminally liable if
it is not beef but is meat from some other animal," he said.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), speaking on behalf the
food industry, said the Elliott review set out some useful
recommendations for addressing areas of weakness and criminal
behaviour and looked forward to working together on this issue.
BRC Director General Helen Dickinson said major retailers
had addressed many of the issues raised in the report since the
horsemeat scandal, building on existing controls on safety and
"Retailers have reviewed and revised their supply chains,
improved the way they audit their suppliers, targeted testing
and worked with the BRC and industry partners to improve the
exchange of intelligence," Dickinson said in a statement.
Elliott's final report with more detailed recommendations
will be published next year.