Food: Standards

Home Office written question – answered on 5th October 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, with reference to the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, in what circumstances her Department envisages that undercover Food Standards agents will need authorisation to participate in criminal activity in the course of their duties.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Minister of State, Home Department

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act lists a range of public authorities who use Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) for general investigative purposes. The CHIS (Criminal Conduct) Bill restricts the number of public authorities able to authorise participation in criminal conduct to only those public authorities who have demonstrated a clear operational need for the tactic. Authorisations will be subject to a robust set of safeguards and an authorisation can only be granted where it is necessary and proportionate to the criminality it is seeking to prevent.

The Food Standards Agency is tasked with protecting consumers and the food industry from crime within food supply chains. Examples of such criminality include the use of stolen food in the supply chain, unlawful slaughter, diversion of unsafe food, adulteration, substitution or misrepresentation of food and document fraud.

An example of where they might need to authorise participation in criminal conduct is where an individual working within a food business, contacts handlers to pass on intelligence. This relates to the ongoing misrepresentation of meat as being of premium quality and the extension of meat durability dates, leading to out of date meat being consumed.

The continuing presence of the individual within the workplace necessitates them actively participating in presenting, packaging and re-labelling produce in order to misrepresent its quality and fitness for consumption, which are criminal offences. This provides opportunities for the evidential seizure of unfit produce and to identify those complicit in, and responsible for, directing fraudulent activity. As a result, evidence is available to support a successful prosecution.

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