There has been no shortage of official analysis of the horsemeat incidents that took place in Europe earlier this year. A variety of reports are now appearing. The Scottish Food and Drink Federation’s Colette Backwell argues that increased cooperation rather than new regulation is likely to achieve the best results.
AS I write this the Scudamore review of the horsemeat incident is being sent to Scottish Ministers for final approval. By the time you read this the report may well have been published. Professor Scudamore’s team left no stone unturned and the review looked likely to include short and long-term recommendations for how industry, government and others can act together to stop such an incident happening again.
Our industry doesn’t work within neat national borders, so I am also interested in the many other reviews and inquiries that are taking place at UK and European level. On 4 June Professor Pat Troop gave an interim report to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) board on her review of the handling of the incident. It may also have been published by the time you read this.
The European Commission has published a draft proposal on the Review of Official Controls which includes lessons learnt from the horsemeat incident. Another on-going activity is the Department of Health/Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DH/Defra) review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks. It will be led by Professor Chris Elliott from Queen’s University Belfast and is expected to look, over the next 18 months, at issues which impact on consumer confidence in the authenticity of food products. There are also numerous parliamentary questions looking at how the food fraud was perpetuated.
It’s a congested and at times bewildering landscape, but some clear themes and areas of study are already emerging from the reviews, including:
• Co-operation – between industry and government; between national and local governments; between government departments; and between European member states.
• Incident prevention and intelligence gathering – an area where the Food and Drink Federation has been working with the FSA and others for some time to establish mechanisms for timely horizon scanning and trend analysis.
• Considerations about traceability and country-of-origin labelling – with broad acknowledgment, in particular from European institutions, that the former worked well in the management of the incident and the latter would have not prevented the horsemeat fraud incidents.
The Scottish Government now has the summer to reflect on its response to Professor Scudamore’s review. It may be that ministers decide to make that part of the much bigger response to the consultation on the new food body for Scotland. But whatever the outcome of Scudamore’s review and those being conducted at UK and EU level, a proportionate response, which is consistent throughout and across borders, should deliver for consumers and industry alike.
However tempting it might be to create additional powers to regulate the industry, the focus needs to be on how we will all work together to defeat the fraudsters.