Following the well-publicized horse meat scandal in 2013, the UK Government has published its response to the final report of the Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks, undertaken by Professor Chris Elliott. However, according to industry expert, John Manners-Bell. despite all the initiatives at a country and European level, only by localising supply chains will risk be reduced.

The scandal which rocked the food industry in the UK and elsewhere in Europe highlighted the significant risk to food supply chains which had been considered previously robust in terms of integrity. In fact the Government asserts that the current systems for safeguarding food safety and public health in the UK are amongst the best in the world. However, it admits that there are shortcomings in terms of preventing the introduction of substitute products into supply chains for criminal gain.

In its response, the UK Government says that it is committed to the introduction of a number of initiatives. These are:

  • The establishment of a Food Crime Unit in the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to give greater focus to enforcement against food fraud in government
  • Taking a strategic approach to ensuring that the country has a resilient network of food analytical laboratories capable of testing consistently for food authenticity in the future
  • Improving coordination across government to protect food integrity and tackle food crime
  • Implementing measures to ensure better intelligence sharing between the food industry and government about potential threats to food integrity
  • Supporting industry to ensure that food businesses know their supply chain. In particular by encouraging industry’s efforts to put in place a robust and effective supply chain audit system that does not just rely on paper audit trails.

Commenting on the response so far, John Manners-Bell said: ‘It is far too early to judge whether these steps will be successful although it seems that at the very least the issue is now being taken very seriously. However with retailers and consumers demanding ever cheaper food there will always be a major incentive for unscrupulous parties to introduce low cost, counterfeit or substitute products into supply chains. The real answer for retailers and manufacturers is to re-engineer their food supply chains on a more local basis where quality and provenance of products can be assessed more easily.’

The European horsemeat scandal is investigated at length in John Manners-Bell’s book ‘Supply Chain Risk, Understanding Emerging Threats to Global Supply Chains’, published by Kogan Page (2014).  The book also analyses threats such as corruption, natural disasters, piracy, terrorism and cargo crime and looks at how supply chains must become more adaptable to survive.