The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) should be given additional powers and resources to boost its ability to tackle food crime and protect consumers, a review has recommended.
Carried out by officials from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) under the oversight of an independent steering group, the findings are to be considered by the FSA Board at its next meeting on Wednesday 23 November.
Background to the NFCU
The NFCU was set up in 2014 in the wake of the horsemeat incident, when beef was supplemented by cheaper horsemeat in a large-scale fraud across Europe. It was agreed that a review of the NFCU would take place after two years.
This follows implementation of the first phase of the unit’s work which has involved building the intelligence and evidence picture of the risks and the nature of food fraud and food crime in the UK.
The review recommends that the NFCU is made an arms-length body of the FSA, with investigatory powers, providing the agility and freedom to make day-to-day law enforcement decisions. Currently, the unit has no investigatory powers and instead works with partners including local authorities and the police to tackle food crime.
If the FSA Board accepts the review’s recommendation, the next stage is to develop a business case and consult with other government departments on more detailed delivery options. There will also need to be in depth consultation with devolved governments and stakeholders in Wales and Northern Ireland, to ensure that a future NFCU takes into account devolved enforcement arrangements and the need for local political accountability. This further work would be completed by the end of March 2017.
About the review
The FSA’s review of the NFCU took place between August and November 2016 with oversight from an independent steering group comprised of members with law enforcement, industry and consumer expertise. The review team took evidence from a range of stakeholders with an interest in and knowledge of the NFCU’s work.