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US trade deal could tempt food fraudsters

A trade deal with the United States could open “a very new can of worms in terms of food fraud”, according to a world-leading expert in the subject.

Chris Elliott is professor of food safety and founder of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast. However, he is perhaps better know as the man who conducted the post horsegate review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks for the UK government.

Elliott used his 2017 City Food Lecture – delivered by Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association – to sound the alarm bells regarding a potential UK-US trade deal. This could result in consumers getting “food they don’t want” – genetically modified fruit and veg, hormone-treated beef and bleached chicken, for example – as well as open the door to fraudsters.

“I think a very new can of worms in terms of food fraud will be upon us if – as I suspect – there will be a compromise around US getting access to the UK market for some of these food commodities,” he said.

Elliott recently warned that foodservice is particularly vulnerable to food fraud. “If I were a fraudster looking at the UK market, foodservice is the area I’d target,” he warned.

The UK’s increasing reliance on imports is also a concern, Elliott explained in the lecture last week, as he questioned the government’s focus on food and drink exports. “We are importing large amounts of food ingredients and commodities into the UK. These are often from complex supply chains. This leaves us highly vulnerable to the growing menace of food fraud, which is being orchestrated more and more frequently by organised criminal networks.”

In January, the government recently played down the risks posed by climate change in relation to future food security. Experts on the Committee on Climate Change warned that a temperature rise of two degrees could have severe impacts on domestic and international food production and trade. However, DEFRA said it was taking a “more optimistic view of the levels of resilience” in the food industry.

Experts at the Food Ethics Council suggested the government was “playing Russian Roulette” with climate change. A few days later, reports emerged of vegetable shortages across Europe as severe weather on the continent devastated crops including courgettes and lettuce.