Thursday 4 September 2014
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Today Professor Chris Elliott has published his independent review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks to ensure that consumers have confidence in the food they buy. The final report and the Government’s response are available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications and copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Professor Elliott’s final report sets out a systems approach to improve the food supply chain. As last February’s horsemeat fraud incident demonstrated, it is vital that we move towards a more open culture that allows consumers to understand where their food comes from and encourages industry to take more responsibility. We are determined to take action against food fraudsters.
I welcome Professor Elliott’s report and would like to thank him for his important work in this area. I accept all of his recommendations, many of which we are already implementing:
Giving top priority to the needs of consumers in relation to food safety and food crime prevention, including through targeted testing, intelligence gathering and surveys
A zero tolerance approach to food fraud including by the development of whistleblowing and reporting of food crime
A shared focus by Government and industry on intelligence gathering and sharing
Improving laboratory testing capacity and capability to ensure a standardised approach for testing for food authenticity
Introducing new unannounced audit checks by the food industry to protect businesses and their customers
Government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks through the creation of a national food safety and food crime committee
Leadership and co-ordination of effective investigations through the creation of a new food crime unit
Ensuring mechanisms are in place for serious food safety and or food crime incident management by implementing the recommendations of the troop report.
Action to date
Food and farming is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, contributing £96 billion to the economy and employing almost 4 million people. That is why we are taking action to ensure that British food remains world leading and to give consumers absolute confidence in what they are buying.
As well as maintaining confidence at home, it is also vital for the reputation of our exports. This reputation is helping us to expand trade internationally through the export action plan, opening up new markets in China and the US and increasing exports of UK food and drink by 7% since 2010.
This Government are committed to helping consumers know what they are buying. We are giving them more power by improving labelling to make it easier for them to understand where their food comes from. Consumers are increasingly choosing British food, with an increase of about 10% in the amount of British beef on sale in UK retailers.
Through our plan for public procurement we are making it easier for food procurers to make decisions about the locality, authenticity and traceability of their food, enabling schools and hospitals to provide their pupils and patients with high- quality British food. This will also boost UK farming by opening up £400 million of potential new business.
From this month, practical cookery and food education is compulsory in the new national curriculum up until the age of 14. This will empower the consumers of the future, giving children a better understanding of where their food comes from and why it is important that we know what is in our food.
Professor Elliott’s report states there is a lack of direct evidence of food crime in the UK but that we should not be complacent if we want consumers to be confident in the food that they buy. That is why we intend to act immediately with the Food Standards Agency to establish a food crime unit by the end of the year. In the first instance the unit will focus on developing the evidence and intelligence picture so that we better understand the risks. The unit will be trialled for two years after which we will review progress and likely future needs.
The report recognises that we have some of the most robust food safety controls in the world and that we are working closely with public analyst laboratories to achieve more effective and efficient working in scientific services to support food standards. We have also provided an additional £2 million this year to support local authority sampling and testing to help protect consumers.
Professor Elliott has also highlighted the role that the food industry needs to play in the gathering and sharing of intelligence. We will build on what Professor Elliott has already achieved by helping to facilitate discussions across the industry and we will work with businesses to remove the duplication in the current industry-driven audit system while ensuring consumers remain protected.
Finally, to oversee the delivery of these recommendations I am establishing a cross-government group on food integrity and food crime. This group will build the better collaboration identified as being necessary between the departments with an interest in food integrity, surveillance and crime.
I have had assurances from industry and Professor Elliott that food businesses are already implementing many of the report’s recommendations. The current industry focus on developing shorter supply chains is an important contribution to having a more resilient food supply chain. Since February 2013 industry and Government have reported over 55,000 tests on processed beef products, with no horsemeat found since April 2013. This demonstrates the effectiveness of the action being taken to assure supply chains and protect consumers.
Protecting the integrity of our food and empowering consumers is central to this Government’s vision of a competitive, resilient and growing UK food supply chain.
Chief Surveillance Commissioner (Annual Report)
I have today laid before both Houses copies of the latest annual report from the Chief Surveillance Commissioner appointed by me to keep under review public authority use of covert surveillance, covert human intelligence sources and property interference. The commissioner provides statutory oversight to ensure that public authorities use correctly and lawfully the relevant provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act 2000 and the Police Act 1997.
The use of covert techniques, including the deployment of undercover officers, is an important weapon in the fight against terrorism and other serious and organised crime including the trafficking of drugs and firearms and child abuse. In using the powers available under the legislation, law enforcement officers play a crucial role in keeping all of us safe. The use of these techniques has been instrumental in securing convictions for very serious offences.
However, it is appropriate that such techniques are properly regulated to ensure they are applied lawfully. The Office of Surveillance Commissioners play a key role in providing independent scrutiny in this area. The commissioners are all retired senior members of the judiciary and bring their experience to bear in this most sensitive of areas. I want to thank Sir Christopher and his colleagues for maintaining the independent, external checks on public authority use of covert techniques.
The report from the Chief Surveillance Commissioner shows that in the vast majority of cases covert techniques are being used effectively, when it is necessary and proportionate to do so. The report notes a small number of errors reported to the commissioner. The number represents a tiny proportion of the total number of authorisations, and a decrease on the previous year. The chief commissioner found nothing to suggest wilful misconduct.