Following the horsemeat scandal in 2013, food crime hasn’t been making front page headlines. However, that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. Food and drink crime often occurs ‘under the radar’ and can be difficult to detect. In addition, the sheer volume of the UK’s food and drink outlets in an industry worth £200 billion means the sector is particularly vulnerable to illegal activities from lone fraudsters to organised criminals.
The impact of food and drink fraud shouldn’t be underestimated. The harm caused to the consumer by fake or adulterated products can result in serious illness, injury or even death. For example, the dangers of fake vodka come to mind. In business terms, this type of fraud undermines legitimate companies, the government and the sector as a whole.
Here in the UK, the Food Standards Agency’s recently formed National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) focuses on the security of food and beverages by working with UK police, Europol and Europe’s Food Fraud Network. The NFCU’s aim is to protect consumers from unsafe, adulterated or bogus food and drink by helping to prevent, detect and prosecute criminal activities involving food and drink fraud.
An excellent new NFCU report examines the issue of threats to our food and drink. Food Crime Annual Strategic Assessment: a 2016 baseline makes informative reading for anyone working in or researching the foodservice industry from kitchen staff and students to contract caterers and business owners. The report explains the impact of food and drink crime and assesses the threats posed to particular commodoties – from meat and fish to olive oil and supplements. It also highlights criminals’ techniques to help flag up suspicious activities and affected products for both consumers and the industry.
If you suspect food or drink fraud or have concerns about the provenance of a product, contact your local authority or the NFCU so they can undertake an investigation. Use the FSA’s online search facility to find the local authority’s food law enforcement officer, or send details to the National Food Crime Unit at: firstname.lastname@example.org.