Are you ready for the new Food Crime Unit?

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The Government has announced that its new Food Crime Unit (the Unit) will be operational by the end of the year.

The creation of the Unit is part of the Government’s acceptance of recommendations made in the Elliot Report (the Report) into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks, which was published in September.

The Report said that the competitive pressure to reduce costs was creating a climate in which “food fraud” is able to thrive. The Report defines this as the “deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain” and includes “adulteration, tampering, product overrun, theft, diversion, simulation and counterfeiting“. It is against this background that the Report recommended the establishment of a Food Crime Unit whose mission will be to tackle food crime.

The powers of the Unit

It appears that the Unit will have full police powers as well as working alongside other criminal enforcement agencies like the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and the National Crime Agency. It will be able to carry out targeted testing and unannounced audits. One objective will be to develop a whistleblowing system and the creation of a culture within the industry that questions the source of supplies all the way down the chain.

In its early days, the focus is likely to be information gathering but we can expect to see investigations and enforcement action too as the newly established unit looks to flex its muscles.

What you should do

Whatever your position in the supply chain, you should:

  • ask searching questions of suppliers
  • ensure effective record-keeping to demonstrate verification of sources
  • ensure you can access at short notice all contracts with suppliers as well as related quality assurance and due diligence documentation
  • agree the entitlement to sample, test and supervise supplies throughout the supply chain
  • think about developing/improving whistleblowing mechanisms to encourage both employees and consumers to raise concerns about food crime and threats to the supply chain
  • collaborate with partners on responsible procurement practice, including considering incentive mechanisms if necessary
  • support improvements in technical controls
  • prepare a protocol and train staff on how to handle a visit from the Unit, including explaining what the Unit is empowered – and is not empowered – to do
  • remember that a perceived laxness towards consumer safety, or the commission of a fraud on consumers, can cause substantial, even irreparable brand damage.