The future of the Food Industry Intelligence Network

Posted: 23 June 2023 | | No comments yet

Professor Chris Elliott reflects on his work as an advisor for the Food Industry Intelligence Network and explain why the organisation is in safe hands.

chris' corner

I have written about the Food Industry Intelligence Network (fiin) on a number of occasions in the past. The organisation was formed in 2015 following one of the recommendations I made in the 2014 Elliott Review following the Horsemeat scandal. A number of Technical Directors from UK food companies came together to discuss how a system of intelligence sharing might operate. I doubt they and certainly myself could have guessed how fiin would develop over the next eight years. It has become the most remarkable of organisations run by the most remarkable of people.

Last week in London the annual fiin members meeting was held. Representatives from over 60 food businesses gathered to hear about the activities of the network, both in the present and the future. As with all fiin meetings I have attended, there was an amazing dynamic to the day, with really informative presentations and lots of comments and questions to follow each. There was an important breakout session, where the objective was to bring potential solutions to a number of very current and complex food authenticity issues as well as opportunities to strengthen the network and support the many thousands of small and medium sized food businesses across the UK.

More of the ugly iceberg has surfaced

It was also very good to hear the presentation from Katie Pettifer, one of the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA) directors. There is a very clear alignment between the FSA and fiin, not only in terms of strategy, but also the need to work even more closely together as the potential challenges to the integrity of the UK food system mount.

In one panel session we both mentioned our concerns about the number and purpose of the audits food businesses are subjected to. One fiin member shared that they were audited 11 times in one week. Such a waste of time, money and effort – yet who did this serve to protect? Certainly not the consumer, but who do you think ultimately pays for all these audits? The consumer of course.

As fiin expands its digital capabilities there is a clear sense that analysing existing and future data will be the next major step forward for the organisation. The delivery of predictive analytics to the members, ie AI based intelligence to highlight the future risks in terms of food fraud in terms of specific commodities and even regions where these are sourced. Such data will help business target their testing and auditing programmes much more effectively.

For me, this was my last fiin meeting. I have acted as an advisor come critical friend to the organization since its inception. I have observed the growth in members and importance to the entire UK food industry with a huge amount of admiration. It is an organisation run by volunteers who already have very busy day jobs. They do it because they care about their industry and wish to protect all consumers in the UK from cheats who would otherwise be much more able to exploit them.

There is nothing like fiin in any other part of the world. But who would bet against the organisation becoming fiin-Global in the future? Unless there are a number of large food fraud scandals in different countries that would trigger fiin-like initiatives, the most likely scenario is that more non UK based companies and perhaps countries decide to capitalise on the existing network and ask to join.

While I personally felt quite sad leaving the meeting, I glanced round at the leadership team and knew that fiin is in extremely safe hands. Soon a new independent advisor will be announced to replace me. I really am looking forward to hearing about the future developments of this most remarkable network as a spectator.

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