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Calls for food crime unit after horsemeat scandal

A specialist food crime unit should be set up in the UK in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, a Government-commissioned report has recommended.

Professor Chris Elliott said the UK has high standards of food safety but the scandal "clearly showed criminal activity in the global food chain".

In the first part of his independent review into how the safety and authenticity of food in the UK can be protected, Professor Elliott said a new unit should be set up as a non-Home Office police force able to deal with "complex food crime perpetrated by highly organised and dangerous, potentially violent organised crime groups".

He said he believed criminal networks saw the potential for "huge profits and low risks" and his report had found "a worrying lack of knowledge" regarding the extent of their operations.

The report, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Health (DH), says Government and industry should make urgent efforts to "fill the knowledge gap" of the extent of any criminal activity within the UK food supply network.

It called on both industry and Government to create "intelligence hubs" to gather and analyse information about food crime.

There have been no successful prosecutions in the UK or Ireland to date in relation to the scandal.

Professor Elliott's report calls for the Food Authenticity Programme, which takes the lead in supporting research into food authenticity testing, and policy over compositional labelling, to return from Defra to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

But he said the FSA should work more closely with Defra and the DH on an up-to-date crisis management plan to make sure their respective roles are clear in the event of a major incident.

He said the FSA should remain a non-ministerial department, but changes to its governance arrangements were necessary "to make it a more robust organisation."

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