An independent report suggesting that the United Kingdom needs a special food police unit uses the Danes and the Dutch as examples and not the United States, where more than a dozen food industry executives this year have been subjected to investigations resulting in felony criminal charges.
Professor Chris Elliott from Queen’s University Belfast is the author of the report, which looks to the Danish Food Crime Unit, established in 2006, and the Dutch Food Crime Unit, started in 2002, as examples for the U.K. to emulate.
No mention is made in the 146-page report of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) 23-year-old Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) or USDA’s investigative units, including the Office of the Inspector General (IG).
The Elliott report stems from Europe’s 2013 horse meat scandal, where organized crime was found to be substituting cheaper equine meat for beef in both fresh and packaged products. The food security professor was named to make independent recommendations aimed at better deterring, identifying and prosecuting food adulteration.
In calling for a new food crime unit, the professor makes it clear that it won’t be for “low grade infraction of the law,” or “harmless minor breach of technical regulations,” but rather for going after “organized crime” where “the profits can be substantial.”
“The government must take action to prevent and deter criminal activity, requiring effective cooperation at a strategic level across the UK, Europe, and internationally,” the Elliott report states.
Many in Europe think that governments were slow to bring prosecutions in the horse meat scandal. It was not until this past spring that four executives were charged in Westminster Magistrates’ Court of breaching food regulations by the Crown Prosecution Services. About a month later, a Dutch businessman was arrested and charged in France in connection with the scandal.
In response the Elliott report, the British government says it will:
- set up the new Food Crime Unit,
- ensure a resilient network of food analytical laboratories to test food consistently, and,
- improve coordination across government to protect food integrity and “tackle food crime.”
How closely the new unit will resemble either the Danish or Dutch examples remains to be seen.
The Danish Food Crime Unit is attached to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration and was created after a scandal involving meat being sold after its “use-by” date. It began with six full-time employees and has since expanded to 18 people at three locations in Denmark. Its duties have also expanded to include supplements fraud. It conducts about 16 major investigations per year.
Many Danish investigations involve illegal slaughter and financial fraud. The unit invites anonymous reporting. Unit employees can enter public and private property without warrants, but its investigators have no power to arrest, which means it must also rely on local police.
The Dutch Food Crime Unit is housed in the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, which is jointly sponsored by the Ministrys of Economic Affairs and Public Health. It is one of six divisions and currently has 110 full-time employees, including 90 special investigators. It also employs three forensic accountants who are expert at electronic data processing and whose job it is to mine computers for information. Many of the unit’s employees came from other police agencies.
The Dutch Food Crime Unit’s focus is on international and organized crime.
In the U.S., which is going though some unprecedented criminal prosecutions of food executives, both FDA’s OCI, USDA’s IG, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have played prominent investigative roles in the recent cases.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Food Standards Agency published its response and the final Elliott report on the U.K.’s official website on Sept. 4. The official title of the independent review is the “Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks—Final Report.”