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Food Supply Networks

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2013

I would like to announce to the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I have asked Professor Chris Elliott, of Queen’s University Belfast, to lead an independent review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks in response to the vulnerabilities recently exposed by horsemeat fraud. I am pleased that he has accepted, subject to the necessary formalities being concluded with Queen’s University Belfast.

On 15 April 2013, Official Report, column 13WS, the House was informed that it was our intention to take forward a strategic review of the horsemeat incident and its implications for the food chain and regulatory framework. We have since concluded that the review should examine food supply networks more widely. We have therefore asked Professor Elliott to provide advice to me and my right hon. Friend on issues which impact upon consumer confidence in the authenticity of food products and any systemic failures in food supply networks which could have implications for food safety and public health. We expect him to make recommendations to support improvements in current systems and to improve consumer confidence.

The review will begin shortly and I anticipate it will take nine to 12 months to complete. My right hon. Friend and I have asked for interim advice in December and for a final report by spring 2014. We have also asked Professor Elliott to provide emerging findings on the European aspects of the review so that we can continue to influence action at a European level and effectively engage in the European Union process.

The reviewer will in due course issue a call for evidence seeking information and views on the integrity of the food supply network, any vulnerabilities and how assurances might be strengthened to support consumer confidence. Food fraud is completely unacceptable and consumers have every right to expect their food to be correctly described. In response to horsemeat fraud, investigations continue at a number of sites across the UK and Europe.

In April, the Board of the Food Standards Agency commissioned Professor Pat Troop to conduct an independent review of that organisation’s response to horsemeat fraud. Professor Troop will be reporting her emerging findings to the board of the Food Standards Agency at its open meeting later today. My right hon. Friend and I expect any strategic findings from the Pat Troop review to be considered in our joint review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks.

The terms of reference for the review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks are being placed in the House Library.