The global population is estimated at seven billion people, with over 200,000 people born (or, new mouths to feed) every day. Certainty of world food supply over the long term is an ever growing concern. Notwithstanding some recent well publicised episodes, we may be considered fortunate in this country (and the majority of the western world) to enjoy relatively secure food supply networks.
In his review commissioned by the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Professor Chris Elliott has explored a world where food becomes more vulnerable to, at best reckless and at worst malicious, actions. He recognises that there is no room for complacency, particularly in the UK, where we have one of the safest regimes in the world. So what can food producers expect to see in the coming years?
In order to give the public greater confidence, Professor Elliott has set out eight pillars of food integrity. These place the consumer at the very top and, cascading from that position, the other recommendations (of zero tolerance with regard to dishonesty, information sharing, laboratory services, audit and assurance, government support, enforcement and crisis management) aim to give the consumer the utmost confidence in the security of the food supply networks.
One of the recommendations is to give the Food Standards Agency (FSA) more enforcement powers. As with any global supply chain, the FSA cannot operate alone; so the recommendations also include collaboration with other agencies on a pan-European or wider scale. The likes of Europol, Interpol and other agencies from around the world have a leading role to play. The report argues that where gaps remain, new agencies should be established.
If the recommendations are to be followed where should food producers shore up the key areas for intervention? Using the example of an Interpol and Europol led offensive to fight against counterfeit and substandard foodstuffs, greater scrutiny has been given to food handling processes such as:
• Haulage – the current trend for shorter supply chains is welcomed as being a significant contributor to food security. Where the trend does not apply, road, rail, air, shipping, agents and couriers can expect to see higher standards of ensuring the integrity of the produce whilst on its journey. Good relationships, reputation management and proper documentation will all have a role.
• Storage and distribution depots – greater value will be placed on the security of the premises and closer monitoring of the personnel with access to the foodstuffs.
• Packaging and labelling – more information for the consumer, more integrated packaging systems and using technology to combat illicit packaging and labelling.
All these will come at a cost; however the report is alive to the impact on small and medium enterprises: assurances are made that the systems being proposed will lift some existing burdens. The report suggests that a greater level of food integrity will enhance reputation and command higher prices at home and (importantly) abroad.
The report (an interim version of which was published in December 2013) has been welcomed by industry. The next steps are being reviewed by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee who will be issuing reports on progress.
To find out more about how our food and drink legal expertise can add value to your business and work with you to evaluate your supply chain please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Gavin Poole is a partner in the food and drink team at Stephens Scown. To contact Gavin, please call 01872 265100, email firstname.lastname@example.org