Food fraud: UK unit may get more powers

The UK National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) should be given additional powers and resources to boost its ability to tackle food crime and protect consumers, a review has recommended.

horse-food-fraud-simpsonsCarried out by officials from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) under the oversight of an independent steering group, the findings are to be considered by the FSA Board at its next meeting on Wednesday 23 November.

The NFCU was set up in 2014 in the wake of the horsemeat incident, when beef was supplemented by cheaper horsemeat in a large-scale fraud across Europe. It was agreed that a review of the NFCU would take place after two years.

This follows implementation of the first phase of the unit’s work which has involved building the intelligence and evidence picture of the risks and the nature of food fraud and food crime in the UK.

The review recommends that the NFCU is made an arms-length body of the FSA, with investigatory powers, providing the agility and freedom to make day-to-day law enforcement decisions.  Currently, the unit has no investigatory powers and instead works with partners including local authorities and the police to tackle food crime.

If the FSA Board accepts the review’s recommendation, the next stage is to develop a business case and consult with other government departments on more detailed delivery options. There will also need to be in depth consultation with devolved governments and stakeholders in Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure that a future NFCU takes into account devolved enforcement arrangements and the need for local political accountability. This further work would be completed by the end of March 2017.

Not just a Europe thing: DNA testing reveals horse meat in two products bought in US

Horse meat has been detected in two of 48 samples of ground meat products purchased from retailers in California.

horse.meat.butcher.france.07It is illegal for horse meat to enter the food chain in the United States.

The presence of horse meat in the two samples was detected during a study undertaken by researchers in the Food Science Program at California’s Chapman University.

The discovery comes after the 2013 horse-meat scandal in Europe, which saw a range of ready-made meals pulled from supermarket freezers across the continent after beef was found to have been contaminated with horse meat.

The resulting international investigation revealed the complexities of the food chain and its vulnerability to rogue traders.

Researchers at Chapman University have just published two separate studies exploring meat mislabeling in consumer products. One focused on identification of the species found in ground meat products and the other investigated game meat species labeling.

Both studies examined products sold in the US commercial market; and both identified species mislabeling.

In the study on identification of species found in ground meat products, 48 samples were purchased from five online specialty meat distributors and four retail outlets (three supermarkets and one butcher) in Orange County, California. The samples represented 15 different meat types.

They were tested for the presence of beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, pork and horse using a combination of DNA barcoding and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

Thirty-eight of them were found to have been labeled correctly.

However, 10 were found to have been mislabeled. Of these, nine were found to contain additional meat species and one sample was mislabeled in its entirety. Horse meat was detected in two of the samples.

One of the samples containing horse was labeled as ground bison and the other as ground lamb meat.

Both had been purchased from two different online specialty meat distributors.

Dutch meat trader at center of horse scandal faces five years in jail

The Dutch trader accused of contaminating beef with horse meat should be jailed for five years, the public prosecution department said on the opening day of his trial in Den Bosch.

willy-selten-horse-meat-trader-560x390Willy Selten is accused of mixing over 300,000 kilos of horse into products which were labelled as pure beef.  His company was at the center of the horse meat scandal which hit the European food sector two years ago. Selten is charged with selling horse to meat processing firms which had ordered beef and false accounting. In one case he supplied horse to a snack food maker in Oss even though beef had been ordered.

Selten admits making mistakes but denies that he deliberately committed fraud, using horse meat in order to earn more money. The public prosecution department claims Selten was a ‘master of deception’.


UK horse meat slaughterhouse sentenced, new food crime unit

The Food Standards Agency has welcomed the conclusion of the first prosecution brought as a result of the investigation into the horse meat incident in 2013.

horse.meat.09Peter Boddy was today fined £8000 at Southwark Crown Court after he admitted failing to comply with food traceability regulations. He had admitted to selling horses for meat but failed to keep proper records to show who bought them. David Moss was given a four-months suspended prison sentence for falsifying an invoice. They were each asked to pay costs of more than £10,000.

FSA continues to support ongoing investigations as well as announcing today Andy Morling was named the Head of the Food Crime Unit.

Andy has extensive experience in intelligence and investigations, having spent the majority of his career working in these areas for HM Revenue & Customs, the Serious Fraud Office, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, and latterly the National Crime Agency, where he was a Senior Intelligence Lead.

The Food Crime Unit was established at the end of last year. During its first phase the Unit is focusing on building intelligence and evidence of the risks and the nature of food fraud and food crime in the UK. The unit exchanges intelligence and priorities at local, regional and national levels with a range of enforcement partners.

Contaminated meat blamed for animal sanctuary deaths in Nevada

Horse meat contaminated with barbiturates was blamed for killing a wolf and tiger and sickened a cheetah at a wildlife sanctuary here last month.

635617222579176670-527AnimalArk11Triple A Brand Meat Co., based in Burlington, Colo., recalled the horse meat that was sold to 10 different zoos and wildlife sanctuaries nationwide, including Animal Ark in Reno, company partner Lindy Yager said Thursday.

Toxicology reports confirmed that the meat contained pentobarbital and phenytoin. Both drugs are considered barbiturates, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Pentobarbital is a drug used to euthanize animals, while phenytoin is an anti-convulsing drug used to treat seizures.

Triple A Brand Meat, which is certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sells horse meat and beef, among other food products, to about 200 customers nationwide, Yager said.

“The horse meat was contaminated, so we stopped the production until we figure out how that got in there,” Yager said. “What they found in there was stuff used to euthanize horses.”

Food fraud: UK Elliott Review, a national food crime prevention framework

Food fraud has been going on as long as food has been traded.

food-fraudMadeleine Ferrières a professor of social history at the University of Avignon, France, wrote in Sacred Cow, Mad Cow: A History of Food Fears, first published in French in 2002, but translated into English in 2006 that, “All human beings before us questioned the contents of their plates. … And we are often too blinded by this amnesia to view our present food situation clearly. This amnesia is very convenient. It allows us to reinvent the past and construct a complaisant, retrospective mythology.”
Ferrières provides extensive documentation of the rules, regulations and penalties that emerged in the Mediterranean between the 12th and 16th centuries.

From the review by Professor Chris Elliott of Queen’s University in Belfast, which was published today:

• This review was prompted by growing concerns about the systems used to deter, identify and prosecute food adulteration. The horse meat crisis of 2013 was a trigger, as were concerns about the increasing potential for food fraud and ‘food crime’. Food fraud becomes food crime when it no longer involves random acts by ‘rogues’ within the food industry but becomes an organised activity by groups which knowingly set out to deceive, and or injure, those purchasing food. These incidents can have a huge negative impact both on consumer confidence, and on the reputation and finances of food businesses.

• The review has taken a systems approach based on eight pillars of food integrity, and this report deals with each in turn, making clear that no one element can stand alone. The result is a robust system that puts the needs of consumers before all others; adopts a zero tolerance approach to food crime; invests in intelligence gathering and sharing; supports resilient laboratory services that use standardised, validated methodologies; improves the efficiency and quality of audits and more actively investigates and tackles food crime; acknowledges the key rolegGovernment has to play in supporting industry; and reinforces the need for strong leadership and effective crisis management.

food_fraud_adulteration• Consumers First: Government should ensure that the needs of consumers in relation to food safety and food crime prevention are the top priority. The Government should work with industry and regulators to:

• _Maintain consumer confidence in food;

• _Prevent contamination, adulteration and false claims about food;

• _Make food crime as difficult as possible to commit;

• _Make consumers aware of food crime, food fraud and its implications; and

• _Urgently implement an annual targeted testing programme based on horizon scanning and intelligence, data collection and well-structured surveys.

Recommendation 2 – Zero Tolerance: Where food fraud or food crime is concerned, even minor dishonesty must be discouraged and the response to major dishonesty deliberately punitive. The Government should:

• _Encourage the food industry to ask searching questions about whether certain deals are too good to be true;

• _Work with industry to ensure that opportunities for food fraud, food crime, and active mitigation are included in company risk registers;

• _Support the development of whistleblowing and reporting of food crime;

• _Urge industry to adopt incentive mechanisms that reward responsible procurement practice;

• _Encourage industry to conduct sampling, testing and supervision of food supplies at all stages of the food supply chain;

• _Provide guidance on public sector procurement contracts regarding validation and assurance of food supply chains; and

• _Encourage the provision of education and advice for regulators and industry on the prevention and identification of food crime.

Recommendation 3 – Intelligence Gathering: There needs to be a shared focus by Government and industry on intelligence gathering and sharing. The Government should:

• _Work with the Food Standards Agency (to lead for the Government) and regulators to collect, analyse and distribute information and intelligence; and

• _Work with the industry to help it establish its own ‘safe haven’ to collect, collate, analyse and disseminate information and intelligence.

horse.meat.09Recommendation 4 – Laboratory Services: Those involved with audit, inspection and enforcement must have access to resilient, sustainable laboratory services that use standardised, validated approaches. The Government should:

• _Facilitate work to standardise the approaches used by the laboratory community testing for food authenticity;

• _Work with interested parties to develop ‘Centres of Excellence’, creating a framework for standardising authenticity testing;

• _Facilitate the development of guidance on surveillance programmes to inform national sampling programmes;

• _Foster partnership working across those public sector organisations currently undertaking food surveillance and testing including regular comparison and rationalisation of food surveillance;

• _Work in partnership with Public Health England and local authorities with their own laboratories to consider appropriate options for an integrated shared scientific service around food standards; and

• _Ensure this project is subject to appropriate public scrutiny.

Recommendation 5 – Audit: The value of audit and assurance regimes must be recognised in identifying the risk of food crime in supply chains. The Government should:

• _Support industry development of a modular approach to auditing with specific retailer modules underpinned by a core food safety and integrity audit to agreed standards and criteria;

• _Support the work of standards owners in developing additional audit modules for food fraud prevention and detection incorporating forensic accountancy and mass balance checks;

• _Encourage industry to reduce burdens on businesses by carrying out fewer, but more effective audits and by replacing announced audits with more comprehensive unannounced audits;

• _Encourage third party accreditation bodies undertaking food sampling to incorporate surveillance sampling in unannounced audits to a sampling regime set by the standard holder;

• _Work with industry and regulators to develop specialist training and advice about critical control points for detecting food fraud or dishonest labelling;

• _Encourage industry to recognise the extent of risks of food fraud taking place in storage facilities and during transport

• _Support development of new accreditation standards for traders and brokers that include awareness of food fraud; and

• _Work with industry and regulators to introduce anti-fraud auditing measures.

Recommendation 6 – Government Support: Government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks should be kept specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART). The Government should:

• _Support the Food Standards Agency’s strategic and co-ordinated approach to food law enforcement delivery, guidance and training of local authority enforcement officers;

• _Support the Food Standards Agency to develop a model for co-ordination of high profile investigations and enforcement and facilitate arrangements to deal effectively with food crime;

• _Ensure that research into authenticity testing, associated policy development and operational activities relating to food crime becomes more cohesive and that these responsibilities are clearly identified, communicated and widely understood by all stakeholders;

• _Ensure that oversight of the ‘Authenticity Assurance Network’ becomes a role for the National Food Safety and Food Crime Committee’;

• _Re-affirm its commitment to an independent Food Standards Agency; and

• _Engage regularly with the Food Standards Agency at a senior level through the creation of a National Food Safety and Food Crime Committee.

Recommendation 7 – Leadership: There is a need for clear leadership and co-ordination of effective investigations and prosecutions relating to food fraud and food crime; the public interest must be recognised by active enforcement and significant penalties for serious food crimes. The Government should:

• _Ensure that food crime is included in the work of the Government Agency Intelligence Network and involves the Food Standards Agency as the lead agency for food crime investigation;

• _Support the creation of a new Food Crime Unit hosted by the Food Standards Agency operating under carefully defined terms of reference, and reporting to a governance board;

• _Support the Food Standards Agency in taking the lead role on national incidents, reviewing where existing legislative mechanisms exist, while arrangements are being made to create the Food Crime Unit; and

• _Require that the Government lead on Operation Opson passes from the Intellectual Property Office to the Food Standards Agency.

Recommendation 8 – Crisis Management: Mechanisms must be in place to deal effectively with any serious food safety and/or food crime incident. The Government should:

• _Ensure that all incidents are regarded as a risk to public health until there is evidence to the contrary;

• _Urge the Food Standards Agency to discuss with the Cabinet Office in their role as co-ordinating body for COBR (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) the planning and organisation of responses to incidents;

• _Urge the Food Standards Agency to implement Professor Troop’s recommendations to put in place contingency plans at the earliest opportunity; and

• _Work closely with the Food Standards Agency to ensure clarity of roles and responsibilities before another food safety and/or food crime incident occurs. 

Ireland launches new horse meat tests as part of EU-wide strategy

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has begun a fresh round of DNA testing of beef products as part of an EU-wide plan to prevent horse meat adulteration.

Some 50 samples of burgers, ready meals and other beef products will be checked for horse meat DNA and the results published soon after.

horse.meat.09The European Commission said it would publish all results from member states before the end of July.

Testing frenzy 
In January of last year the FSAI discovered horse meat in beef burgers manufactured here, sparking an EU-wide frenzy of testing which affected most of the continent.

The European Commission then directed EU member states to carry out more than 7,000 tests to detect the presence of equine DNA and veterinary drug phenylbutazone.

Overall, less than 5 per cent of the tested products contained horse DNA and Ireland was one of only five countries where no beef products tested positive for horse DNA. France found more cases of horse meat in beef products, followed by Greece.

About 0.5 per cent of the equine carcasses tested were found to be contaminated with phenylbutazone, or bute. This is an anti-inflammatory painkiller which can be dangerous to humans if ingested in large doses.

In the Irish tests, one sample out of 840 had traces of bute.

As well as conducting the EU tests for horse meat, the UK’s Food Standards Agency is also testing lamb dishes from takeaways following evidence that cheaper meats such as beef, chicken and turkey were being used in lamb dishes. 

Not lamb takeaway
Its review of local authority sampling data, from July to December last year found that 43 out of 145 samples of lamb takeaway meals contained meat other than lamb.

Horse meat scandal leads to tighter rules: Ireland food safety chief

Excerpts below from an op-ed in in the Irish Times by Prof Alan Reilly, chief executive of Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Over three months have elapsed since the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) uncovered the practice of replacing processed beef with horse meat. Initial inquires put the spotlight on three processing plants, o-HORSE-MEAT-COSTUME-570two in Ireland and one in the UK. Soon, it became evident the problem was not confined to these islands, as most countries in Europe became involved.

It is disturbing that in Europe where, in the wake of food scares, the food control systems have undergone extensive review and renewal, a scandal of large proportions went unnoticed and undetected.

The scale of the scandal is astounding. Numerous foods, beef burgers, beef meals, pies, meat balls, kebabs and remarkably, even chicken nuggets were removed from sale. One recall alone in the Netherlands involved 50,000 tonnes of meat – over 500 million burgers. Leading international food brands and retailers were caught in a web of deception perpetuated in Europe for at least a year, possibly longer.

Some businesses have ceased, others lost market share, and consumer confidence eroded. Brands and reputations carefully nurtured over years will take a long time to recover their association with quality and trust. Apart from reputational damage, the scandal resulted in the regrettable waste of considerable quantities of food.

What is clear is the risk to public health from this incident is low, as most evidence to date suggests the horse meat used came from approved abattoirs. All products in Ireland that tested positive for horse DNA, tested negative for the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone, or “bute”.

Nevertheless, the practice of replacing processed beef with horse meat and failing to inform consumers is unacceptable. The primary motive is profit.

Already changes are coming. Global standards for the trade in beef trim will become more stringent. It will no longer be the industry norm to purchase frozen beef blocks on face value. Laboratory testing for horse.o.brotherspecies authenticity will be commonplace. DNA testing of meat products will be standard for major retailers. Verification of the authenticity of meat species will underpin product labelling.

As ever with food incidents, an important lesson is how risk communication minimises damage to reputations and brands. There were interesting contrasts in how food companies responded to the crisis, from denial to full acceptance of responsibilities.

Our experience is that the more a food company is open and transparent , the less likely it will be accused of cover up or lack of due care. The horse meat scandal demonstrated again how proactive risk communication and acceptance of responsibility increases public trust and minimises reputational damage.

Horse meat for the poor, one in three Americans say

Although expectant duchess Kate Middleton is terrified she may have been fed contaminated horse meat, 32 per cent of Americans say horse meat should be fed to commoners – the poor people.

As Canada’s barfblog correspondent can attest, horses cost a lot of money o-HORSE-MEAT-COSTUME-570to buy, house and feed. So let them eat horse.

German politicians Hartwig Fischer and Dirk Niebel first floated the horse-meat-for-the poor proposal, and why not says Tina Nguyen of The Braiser.

“After one has spent yeeeeears grooming their beautiful horses, teaching them to jump over fences and chase after foxes and prance to the Dances With Wolves soundtrack, there is not much one can do with one’s beloved, companion, therapy horse — except for feeding it to a homeless veteran.”

Another hit in the U.K. – the horse burger costume.

Reached for comment by Business Insider, the director of Fancy Dress Costumes (, Jack Coveney, said, “The sales are quite incredible, we literally have one left and just placed a bulk order to re-stock … Interest has been on a European scale. We have never had so many inquiries.”

Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke said the scandal threatens the core of food sales today – trust – because of criminal activity for a few.

But it’s time to move past trust alone and faith-based food safety. Show me the data; trust but verify.

Horse meat blame game ‘audits are useless’

As Germans blame Poles, Ireland finds fraud, and Australians wonder what will happen to the 700 horses slaughtered each month at two abattoirs for human consumption overseas, a retired meat inspector told a UK sunnybrook-auditorgovernment committee the audit system is a “disgrace” and in need of a “total review.”

Food Navigator reports that in written evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Paul Smith a retired inspector with 43 years of experience in the meat industry said, there is a “massive failure” of “multiple retailers” to monitor suppliers through appropriate inspections at appropriate intervals.

“The suppliers (the auditees) can select which “approved inspection body” they use. They also pay for the audit.

“In practice, they also pick which auditor by heaping praise on them followed by request for same individual next visit.”

I’ve yet to hear a company stand up and say, this is how we will prevent this in the future. Instead it’s just more of the same thing – audits and inspections – but in the future they will be really, really super serious.

That’s crazy.

We looked at why audits and inspections are never enough, and concluded:

• food safety audits and inspections are a key component of the nation’s food safety system and their use will expand in the future, for both domestic and imported foodstuffs, but recent failures can be emotionally, physically and financially devastating to the victims and the businesses involved;

• many outbreaks involve firms that have had their food production systems verified and received acceptable ratings from food safety auditors or horse.meat.09government inspectors;

• while inspectors and auditors play an active role in overseeing compliance, the burden for food safety lies primarily with food producers;

• there are lots of limitations with audits and inspections, just like with restaurants inspections, but with an estimated 48 million sick each year in the U.S., the question should be, how best to improve food safety;

• audit reports are only useful if the purchaser or  food producer reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results;

• there appears to be a disconnect between what auditors provide (a snapshot) and what buyers believe they are doing (a full verification or certification of product and process);

• third-party audits are only one performance indicator and need to be supplemented with microbial testing, second-party audits of suppliers and in-house capacity to meaningfully assess the results of audits and inspections;

• companies who blame the auditor or inspector for outbreaks of foodborne illness should also blame themselves;

• assessing food-handling practices of staff through internal observations, externally-led evaluations, and audit and inspection results can provide indicators of a food safety culture; and,

• the use of audits to help create, improve, and maintain a genuine food safety culture holds the most promise in preventing foodborne illness and safeguarding public health.

Audits and inspections are never enough: A critique to enhance food safety


Food Control

D.A. Powell, S. Erdozain, C. Dodd, R. Costa, K. Morley, B.J. Chapman


Internal and external food safety audits are conducted to assess the safety and quality of food including on-farm production, manufacturing practices, sanitation, and hygiene. Some auditors are direct stakeholders that are bureaucratemployed by food establishments to conduct internal audits, while other auditors may represent the interests of a second-party purchaser or a third-party auditing agency. Some buyers conduct their own audits or additional testing, while some buyers trust the results of third-party audits or inspections. Third-party auditors, however, use various food safety audit standards and most do not have a vested interest in the products being sold. Audits are conducted under a proprietary standard, while food safety inspections are generally conducted within a legal framework. There have been many foodborne illness outbreaks linked to food processors that have passed third-party audits and inspections, raising questions about the utility of both. Supporters argue third-party audits are a way to ensure food safety in an era of dwindling economic resources. Critics contend that while external audits and inspections can be a valuable tool to help ensure safe food, such activities represent only a snapshot in time. This paper identifies limitations of food safety inspections and audits and provides recommendations for strengthening the system, based on developing a strong food safety culture, including risk-based verification steps, throughout the food safety system.