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UK: BRC audit not designed to pick up food fraud

By Rick Pendrous, Food Manufacture

Standard audits are unlikely to detect fraud, said the British Retail Consortium


Conventional third-party hygiene audits of suppliers are unlikely to pick up examples of food fraud – such as the horsemeat incidents exposed earlier this year – a leading audit scheme owner has said.

Following the horsemeat scandal the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reviewed its audit scheme to determine whether it needed to change but decided against it, said Karen Betts, compliance manager for BRC Global Standards, speaking at a recent food innovation conference.

BRC Global Standards and other similar schemes are primarily designed for retail customers and others to ensure compliance of their food and drink suppliers with accepted hygiene standards rather than to identify incidents of fraud.

“We decided there wasn’t a need to change the standard as such,” said Betts. “What we did was give guidance notes out to auditors about what they should be looking for in traceability.

“But fraud is an illegal activity and if people are hell bent on hiding things it is very difficult to pick that up in a standard audit.”

However, some meat industry experts believe such audits should be redesigned to enable fraud to be identified. Dr Jo Head, an expert on meat hygiene, said there was potential to “bolt on a fraud module to the BRC Standard”.

Halal meat

In response to recent fraudulent events, the meat industry is to investigate the introduction of a separate assurance scheme for the halal sector. This will be discussed at a forum being organised in October 2013 on halal meat in Warwickshire by EBLEX, the levy charging body for the lamb and beef sectors.

EBLEX’s plans follow the horsemeat scandal and a number of high-profile cases in which non-halal foods were found to be passed off as halal. They even included one in which supposedly halal food supplied to the prison service was found to contain pork.

Currently, there are a number of halal certification bodies, which have very different views on practices such as the stunning of animals before slaughter. This has inevitably caused contention in the Muslim community and among others who eat halal food – something which is growing in popularity within the UK.

“The halal sector is a very diverse one and it is vital that we get input from all areas to enable us to come up with informed workstreams that are of real benefit to those working within it,” said EBLEX chairman John Cross.

‘Competence of the auditors’

In her presentation at Leatherhead Food Research, Betts explained the lengths BRC went to ensure the consistency of audits carried out by its different certification bodies around the world and the competence of the auditors they employ.

“Unfortunately, there are some auditors that could do better; there are some countries and regional areas where they need to gain more experience,” said Betts. “For me as a compliance manager, we have some hot spots where the certification numbers are increasing, like India. However, that gives me concern that we have the auditors in place in those places who understand and have the right experience.”

David Brackston, BRC technical director – food schemes, will speak on ‘Are third-party audits fit for purpose?’ at Food Manufacture’s Food safety conference: What have we learnt from recent crises.

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