ANALYSIS - The horse meat scandal or another illegal adulteration of food products could easily occur again.
Speaking at the Foodex exhibition in Birmingham in the UK this week, a panel of experts from across the meat and food industry including consumer groups and legal watchdogs concluded that food products could be adulterated and contaminated if people within the industry were determined to cut corners and commit criminal acts.
The former chairman of the British Food Standards Agency and former agriculture minister Jeff Rooker said that although the horse meat scandal was considered an authenticity issue and not a food safety issue, it should have been regarded as a question of food safety because no one knew where the horse meat that contaminated the products had come from and how it had been processed and slaughtered.
Sector director for the English Beef and Lamb Executive Nick Allen said: “In this instance what we were dealing with was criminal activity – fraud.
“The criminal activity was abroad and we still do not know the full story.
“It could happen again because it is criminal activity.”
Elizabeth Andoh-Kesson from the British Retail Consortium said that the retail sector took swift action as soon as it knew what was happening.
But she added that although there are structures in the supply chain to provide traceability, it is impossible to guarantee 100 per cent traceability.
She said a lot has been done to shorten supply chains and the industry is still working on strengthening areas of weakness.
Ms Andoh-Kesson called for unannounced audits of food processors and increased authenticity testing.
Mark Driscoll from the Food Forum for the Future said that the legacy of the horse meat affair was a lot of scepticism among consumers.
“How and where our food is produced is at the centre of the doubt,” he said.
He said there is a need for transparency in the production of food products and an effort to achieve total traceability.
“The pursuit of cheap food was responsible for the criminality and the horse meat scandal.
“It is a question of where value is built in the supply chain. It has been the supermarkets and the stiff competition that has been driving food prices down”
But he added that by redistributing the value of food products along the food chain it should not mean a rise in prices for the consumer.
He said while third party verification of food products, DNA testing and the establishment of a food crime unit were welcome, there was also a need for a more joined up approach to food traceability and testing from the government and a more integrated food an farming structure in the UK.
The panel called for more vigilance and trust in the supply chain as well as increased intelligence gathering in order to help prevent further criminal food scandals.