The horse-meat scandal that engulfed Europe in 2013 may have been responsible for up to 50,000 horses disappearing across the continent, Britain’s top food fraud expert says.
Professor Chris Elliott, addressing the recent Food Fraud Conference in Doncaster, England, warned that unless the issue was taken seriously by authorities and the police, it was likely to happen again.
Elliot said food fraud was an organised and global criminal enterprise involving gangs such as the Mafia and the Central American drug cartels.
He said up to 50,000 horses “disappeared” from Europe during the financial meltdown which started around 2008. People could no longer afford to keep them – and it was likely a lot of them ended up in the food supply system.
“The idea that 50,000 horses could just disappear may seem incredible to some, but the scale at which some of these gangs can operate is huge. Wherever there is money to be made – and the sums involved in food fraud are in the billions – criminals will find a way.”
Elliot, appointed by the government to investigate the horse-meat scandal and food fraud in Britain, described the scandal as a close call, saying there was little direct threat to public health. Next time we may not be so lucky, he said.
The professor, who is the director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, described it as a wake-up call for Britain.
“While there was no direct evidence of a threat to public health, there have been food fraud scandals in other countries that have affected thousands – and in some cases hundreds of thousands – of people.
“In China in 2008, over 300,000 infants were made ill by adulterated milk, with six sadly dying.
“With organised gangs becoming attracted in to food fraud, we must act now to prevent public health threats.”
Elliot said the establishment of the National Food Crime Unit by Britain’s Food Standards Agency was a good first step.
“The only way we can succeed is for everyone, from farmers and producers to retailers and the authorities, to work together to improve the tracking and auditing of our food supply chain.”
The conference was organised by the Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance, a food safety qualifications organisation.
The Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks – Final Report: A National Food Crime Prevention Framework can be found here.