UPDATE: A leading veterinarian with a strong track record in dealing with fraud and corruption within the meat industry has called for the establishment of a publically funded Food Crime Unit.

“This is the only way that we will ever get to grips with the issue of fraud, which I believe to be endemic threat to the EU’s food industry,” said Mike Steel, a consultant with the UK-based Food and Farming Compliance partnership.

The former leader of Northern Ireland Veterinary Service’s animal health, welfare and meat hygiene enforcement group was commenting in the wake of today’s press allegations in the Guardian newspaper, pointing to the possible inclusion of rotting meat in burgers manufactured at the Silvercrest plant in Co Monaghan.

“The current EU traceability procedures work well at the level of hygiene and animal traceability standards,” he added. “However, until now insufficient attention has been given to the possibility of fraudulent substitution of food.”

“However, the attraction for food fraudsters to substitute lower value products, when the opportunity arises, will always exist and potential profits are massive. Obviously this issue hit the headlines with last year’s horsemeat scandal. But I believe in Europe and probably worldwide it was only the tip of the iceberg; It is also just as likely to happen within any of the other food sectors such as olive oil or orange juice as it is within the meat industry: basically wherever a profit can be made.”

When asked about the relevance of the post-horsemeat scandal review into the integrity of food supply networks undertaken in the UK by Professor Chris Elliott of Queen’s University Belfast, Steel added: “The corruption problem straddles the food industry as whole. The work, being carried out by Professor Elliott and is extremely important. It has the overwhelming support of the food industry but it is only the start. The UK government and industry will still have to live up the food integrity obligations his review will impose upon them.”

Steel continued: “Food fraud is extremely difficult to detect, investigate and prosecute successfully. Some structure along the lines of Prof Elliott’s recommendation  for a national Food Crime Unit to be established will be essential if food fraudsters are to be brought to justice. A Food Crime Unit would operate at national and, with Europol, at a European level. Moreover, they will have the teeth to carry out inquiries which will get to the very heart of the corruption problem infiltrating the food industry.”

Meanwhile, press reaction to the allegations made in today’s Guardian newspaper continues to gather pace. Referring to the report and comments by a Polish veterinary authorities, Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland said: “The claims made therein will be seen for what they are, an attempt to shift focus away from the role of some Polish operators in the horsemeat controversy.  The specific claims made in the Guardian newspaper have been comprehensively dismissed by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The report is unhelpful, but its aim is diversionary and the claims are unfounded.”

Additional reporting Richard Halleron

Related: Reaction to ‘rotten beef’ claims at ABP Silvercrest