Food Law News - UK - 2003

FSA Consultation, 22 January 2003

WASTE FOOD - Consultation on Waste Food Task Force report

The Waste Food Task Force was set up by the Agency as part of its seven point action plan to prevent animal by-products (i.e. meat not fit or intended for human consumption) being diverted into the food chain. The Agency has today received the report from the Task Force. They are seeking your comments on it.

Consultation details

The remit of the Task Force was to look broadly at the controls over the safe disposal of animal by-products, and in particular to look at any issues not covered by the action plan. The Task Force was independent of the Agency and was made up of experts from enforcement, industry and consumer backgrounds.

The report from the Task Force is available on the FSA website. There is a summary of recommendations which can be found at Summary (pdf file). These recommendations are aimed not only at the FSA, but also at DEFRA and at industry.

Once the consultation period closes, the issues raised will be considered in detail by officials in the FSA, DEFRA and other Government departments before a paper is put to the FSA Board. It is then expected that the Board will agree an action plan at its meeting in July 2003, taking into account the comments and suggestions received during this consultation process. The Board's decisions will be announced by the Agency and full details will be posted to the FSA website.

Executive Summary

1. Fraud and allegations of fraud involving unfit meat led to the Food Standards Agency's seven-point plan . This and other evidence considered by the Task Force has led to the conclusion that there are serious failings in the current legislation, exacerbated by the current multi-agency enforcement arrangements, which enable fraud to take place and those who perpetrate it to evade detection. It is difficult to quantify the risk to public health from this criminal activity. But it is clear that the public have been exposed to a serious risk of food-borne disease and food poisoning, as well as the prospect that they have eaten food deemed as unfit.

2. A number of weaknesses in the existing system of controls have been identified providing the opportunity for unfit food to enter the human food chain. These include the current way that industry operates; the governing legislation (particularly the Animal By-Products Order 1999 ); the work of the Meat Hygiene Service; liaison between enforcement agencies, particularly the need to involve local authorities; the penalties available to punish offenders; and the important but anomalous position of the group known as 'food brokers'.

3. These issues must be addressed if the public is to have continuing confidence in the quality, wholesomeness and safety of food, particularly meat and meat products. Steps must be taken to ensure that the new EU Animal By-Products Regulation (enacted in October 2002, and due to come into force in April 2003) have well thought through implementing regulations. These should be drafted to rationalise the enforcement regime, increase the effectiveness of controls, and maximise use of resources. In addition, by restricting access and availability of high-risk material, it should be possible to dramatically decrease illegal trade. If traceability was improved, it would be easier to identify and verify sources and so make this type of fraud uneconomic.

4. A full list of the recommendations we are making is included at Annex 1 for ease of reference {see Summary). Also included at Annex 2 is an explanation of terms and definitions, which may be of help to readers unfamiliar with this area of work.


5. Industry, Government and enforcers must all recognise the importance of their role in the effective control over the proper disposal of by-products. It is vital that all those involved in sourcing, supplying and regulating food are working effectively in partnership to assure the safety and credibility of the human food supply.

6. The whole of the food industry, including allied and related businesses, must actively manage the disposal process in order to prevent food fraud, in line with the due diligence provisions of the Food Safety Act.


7. We are particularly concerned about the inadequate controls on the transport of by-products, once they leave licensed meat premises. This is a clear area of weakness that must be addressed. Improvements will be achieved in part by the new EU By-Products Regulation, and its national implementing regulations.

8. The requirement to stain or sterilise high-risk by-products is an additional provision made under national not EU law. Under existing EU law by-products may be moved between Member States, or imported from third countries, and are then in free circulation, without any requirement to stain or sterilise high-risk by-products. This is a further loophole whereby high risk material could potentially be traded in an unstained condition and be diverted into the human food chain, and purchased unwittingly by reputable traders. While the new EU By-Products Regulation will introduce tighter controls on high risk by-products, it will continue to permit trade in by-products between Member States without staining.


9. A very clear picture has emerged of a 'silo' culture in the enforcement agencies involved. This includes local authority environmental health and trading standards departments, the Meat Hygiene Service, DEFRA and the State Veterinary Service. Annex 3 sets out in diagrammatic form the complexity of the current regulatory environment. The current policy framework on food regulations dictates that the agencies have individual priorities and consequently do not always work together in a way that ensures maximum supervision of the complex trade involved in meat. It is essential that this changes, so that the boundaries between the enforcement bodies are clarified and that the importance of enforcement of both public health and animal health aspects of this work is fully accepted by all the agencies involved. A number of recommendations to resolve these problems are made in this report

10. It has not been possible to quantify the volume of by-products that may have been fraudulently entering the human food chain. However, there have been a number of investigations of meat 'scams' to date, ranging from large nationwide frauds to small local cases. But what may appear to be a small scale local problem may have much wider implications, affecting many small local businesses through its supply chain. This highlights the case for effective central co-ordination and support for enforcement officers working in a variety of agencies. The FSA, as the policy lead and strategic food authority, is the appropriate agency to provide the necessary co-ordination and leadership. The Agency is also well placed to make the case in Central Government for appropriate resources for effective local investigations of meat scams in addition to providing and maintaining routine food safety protection.

11. Many enforcement officers have little experience of investigating this type of food fraud. The consequent lack of detailed knowledge about legal powers and procedures for obtaining and sharing evidence, and liaison and co-ordination with other enforcement agencies, therefore needs to be addressed. The effective involvement of the police at the earliest possible stage in appropriate cases is also crucial.


12. Action under the Food Safety Act has limited deterrent effect as the penalties are relatively small. The Act was not designed to deal with the type of major food fraud seen in recent cases. In addition, the current time limits under the Act do not allow enforcers to mount the type of in-depth investigation necessary into what are often highly complex frauds.

Food Brokers

13. The involvement in the food chain of the group of intermediaries or middle men commonly known as 'food brokers' has clouded the issues of ownership and traceability, so making it more difficult to establish the provenance of food, and hampering investigation. Strenuous effort must be made to bring these traders into the regulatory framework. Whether by formal licensing or by a less stringent requirement needs to be determined, but the minimum requirement must be for keeping adequate records for audit trail purposes, particularly details of where food is kept while in the legal ownership of such traders.


14. Consumers are the innocent victims of food fraud. Few of them will have the knowledge and skills to recognise the fraudulent sale of waste food. The FSA should therefore work with relevant organisations, particularly those working with low income groups, to ensure that citizens have the knowledge and skills to reduce the likelihood of their being a victim of food fraud and thereby avoid the risks to their health from consuming unfit meat.


15. Through a better understanding of the meat scams identified to date, this report makes a number of recommendations. These aim to reduce the enforcement gaps by strengthening the existing controls, and providing a means to minimise the opportunity for by-products to enter the food chain, thereby minimising the risks to public and to animal health. The new EU By-Products Regulation should help to make by-products easier to identify and trace. Better enforcement and co-ordination of controls from production to the point of disposal should ensure that the diversion of by-products into the human food chain is identifiable, uneconomic and, because of the enhanced risk of detection and the severe criminal penalties, a risk not worth taking.

16. Although we recognise that it would be impossible to guarantee an end to the diversion of animal by-products into the human food chain, we believe that implementation of our recommendations will go a long way to removing the weaknesses in the current control system, largely making this trade uneconomic. It is the availability of economically valuable and usable material and products that provides the opportunity for fraud. If that availability is removed, the opportunity for profit - and hence for criminal activity - will also be removed. Our recommendations are focused on achieving that objective and avoiding unjustified additional burdens on reputable businesses.

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