Most people have heard about the EU horsemeat scandal in 2013, in which supermarkets in the UK were found to be selling beef products adulterated with horse meat. While this is perhaps the most high-profile example of food crime in recent years, its visibility also serves to overshadow many other disturbing, and more common, examples of food crime. For example, in July 2013, North Yorkshire Trading Standards sampled lamb curries from 10 takeaways and discovered that seven contained lamb and chicken, one contained lamb and beef, and only one contained just lamb as advertised. In December 2013, West Yorkshire Joint Services conducted tests on 873 food samples from restaurants and takeaways. 38% of these samples failed the test for food authenticity and showed that they were adulterated by unlisted ingredients and substitutes, including the use of cheese analogue instead of real cheese and chicken substituted for beef. In an earlier sample, they tested 16 lamb curry dishes and discovered that seven of them were made from beef. In another example, over 10,000 tons of New Zealand manuka honey is sold annually, despite the fact that only 1,700 tons is produced, suggesting that the industry is subject to widespread labeling fraud and product adulteration.
These examples of food adulteration represent only a sample of the kind of food fraud that takes place on a regular basis. It’s fairly low-level in terms of organization and could originate at either the production or the retail level of service. However, food crime can be a much bigger industry than that. In December 2013, BBC Radio reported that organized crime figures posing as buyers had stolen at least 100 truckloads, or 20 million GBP worth, of food and frozen meat from suppliers. The criminal gang impersonated a legitimate food retailer by setting up websites and email addresses, complete with perfect branding and the profiles of real employees, and placed orders from suppliers to be delivered to warehouses that were not connected to the supermarket. The paperwork from the supplier was legitimate, the paperwork from the gang appeared legitimate, and from an administrative perspective, there was no reason to suspect anything was amiss until the supplier sent the invoice to the actual retailer and discovered that the transaction was fraudulent, by which time the gang had moved on and set up operations somewhere else. Although it might be easy to dismiss this event as a concern only for the defrauded supplier, we should note that this criminal syndicate almost certainly has the means to sell this meat and consequently re-insert it back into the food supply chain. During the period the meat is in their custody, there are no controls for monitoring what happens to it. Has it been stored in sanitary conditions at the correct temperature to prevent contamination and bacterial growth? Has it been adulterated with cheaper meats originally destined for pet food factories and unfit for human consumption? Will it be sold with fraudulent labels and packaging that misrepresent its origin or date? This black hole of information means that the consumer could end up eating meat of unknown origin masquerading as legitimate product from a closely monitored supply chain.
In response to the horse meat scandal and other similar incidents, the UK government tasked Prof. Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety and Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, with analyzing the current state of the integrity of the UK food supply chain in 2014. The final report uses a systems approach to provide eight fundamental pillars that constitute the basis of a complete food integrity system that will protect producers and consumers in the international food marketplace.
The new Intelex infographic Protecting the Food Supply Chain: Recommendations from the Elliott Review summarizes the eight pillars from the Elliott Review in a way that helps you apply its expert insights to your organization. You’ll learn about:
- The importance of horizon scanning, which includes identifying discrepancies between the price and availability of product in the face of political or geographic irregularities.
- How to locate the red flags of food fraud, such as employees whose lavish lifestyles contradict their salaries or deals from suppliers that are “too good to be true.”
- How government organizations and businesses around the world tackle food crime.
- The importance of protecting local supply chains in the face of global competition.
- How to win the confidence of your consumers by demonstrating your understanding of the complex area of food crime.