Meat is focus for new food fraud task force

THE MEAT sector will be the initial focus for a new 'food fraud task force' being launched by the Board of the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The aim of the task force will be to consider the current controls in place and their suitability to control and deter food fraud.

The team will then draw up action plans to help tackle the trade in illegal food and protect consumers. It is then hoped that the lessons learnt from the meat sector will be applied to the rest of the food industry.

Dr Philip Barlow, former associate professor of food science and technology at the National University of Singapore, will chair the task force.

Director of enforcement at the FSA, David Statham, said: "It is clear that some current processes could and should be tightened, and this review has been instigated to deliver solutions.

"But it is also important that the food industry takes its responsibility toward fraud and illegal activity seriously. Where food fraud is identified it is vital that enforcement authorities work together to stamp it out."

Dr Barlow said the findings and recommendations of the task force should give consumers a more trust in the food they consumed and the industry more confidence in the marketing of its products.

In the light of the Euro Freeze investigation, the FSA has recognised additional issues that need to be addressed which were not relevant at the time the initial task force was set up.

The FSA Board discussed these issues and recommendations were made about the key areas to be addressed by the new task force. Membership inclusion was also tackled.

Key issues included health marking, identification of animal by-products, inspection and audit arrangements for food businesses, the effectiveness of the agency support mechanisms for food fraud, the adequacy of the existing legal framework for prosecution and the suitability of penalties and arrangements for encouraging 'whistleblowing.'

The unit will first meet in May. In preparing a final report for the FSA Board in October 2007, the task force will involve and consult all relevant stakeholders.

There will be a series of interim reports to the FSA Board and any necessary actions identified will be fast-tracked prior to the final report.