The result of the Elliott Review of the integrity of the food supply chain triggered by last year’s horse-meat scandal was published this week. Retail Week looks at what retailers need to know.

Why are we talking about this now?

Memories of the horse-meat scandal, which rocked the food industry last year, were reignited this week when the Government published its conclusion to the review of the supply chain.

Called the Elliott Review after author Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, it outlined “eight pillars of food integrity” designed to secure the food supply chain and protect it from food crime.

It came after supermarkets including Tesco, Iceland and Asda were found to be selling horse meat in products labelled as beef in 2013.

What are the recommendations?

The recommendations aim to put the consumer first, adopt a zero-tolerance approach to food crime, gather intelligence, standardise lab testing, improve auditing, recognise the key role Government has to play and reinforce the need for strong leadership.

The review calls for a national food crime unit to be “urgently” set up to protect consumers from criminal infiltration of the supply networks. It said there wasn’t a body in place specifically to pursue investigations and prosecutions related to food crime. It added: “This creates a huge incentive for the criminal to pursue food crime instead of other types of crime with comparable financial return, and risks system-wide proliferation if unchecked.”

In addition it said there was “concern” over retailers’ buying policies as supermarkets fight to cut prices which, in turn, may be putting pressure on suppliers to deliver more at a lower price. The report cautioned retailers against paying below the market price for products, fearing it may impact food quality by suppliers potentially making substitutions.

Are the recommendations likely to be taken up?

Regarding concern over buying policies, Hilary Ross, head of retail, food and hospitality at law firm DWF, said: “I don’t necessarily agree with it. Brand is king and if a supplier is caught out once, then it is dropped. There is no incentive to defraud the retailer.

“I think there has been a sea-change in the way consumers view inexpensive food now there are the discounters Aldi and Lidl. They’ve shown it’s fine to cut prices without cutting quality.”

And while the idea of a national food crime unit has been welcomed, the Government will have to invest to set it up.

Ross added: “The ball is now firmly in the Government’s court to fund and support these significant changes, and while they have paid lip service to agreeing to the creation of a Food Crime Unit, the industry will be keeping a close eye on their next steps. Given that the initial set-up of the unit is estimated to cost between £2m and £4m a year, it is likely that the Government will need to be utterly convinced of the business case before making such an investment.”

What are retailers already doing?

Immediately after the fall-out of the scandal, supermarkets invested heavily in testing products for traces of horse meat and set up more rigorous measures in the supply chain, while some, such as Asda, have been carrying out unannounced audits of their suppliers, as recommended by the review, rather than announced audits.