Food Fraud – an evolving crime

Food fraud – an evolving crime

The food landscape is everchanging. With the rise in veganism, heightened focus on allergens and higher demand for organic food products – both in the home and in restaurants – the food industry is having to take measures to keep pace.

Food fraud refers to the purposeful substitution, addition, tampering with or misrepresentation of food, ingredients or packaging during a product’s distribution or production processes. It can also refer to false or misleading information being released about a food or drink product for monetary gain. However, despite advances in legislation, regulation and technology, fraud continues to occur across the food industry.

Misrepresentation vs mislabelling – what’s the difference?

Misrepresentation refers to a false statement which is presented as fact. This can influence a person to use this ‘factual’ statement as means of making a decision and, in the case of food fraud, this decision is to make a purchase. If the person making the false statement was aware the information they provided was false, they are liable for any loss or damage caused to anyone who was misled.

Mislabelling describes a simple mistake in the labelling process on products. In early stages, mislabelling can be a small isolated issue which can be promptly resolved. However, this means at some point in the supply chain – either early on or in later stages – misrepresentation may have occurred, leading to mislabelling.

Loss due to misrepresentation or mislabelling can include paying a premium for products of superior quality, which in actual fact have been produced cheaply with substituted ingredients. This describes loss due to overpayment and loss caused by the use of an altered product which has been misrepresented.

Demand for high-quality produce

The rise in demand for ‘craft’, ‘artisan’, ‘handmade’ or ‘natural’ produce has been increasingly present. When it comes to legally defined attributes for these definitions, the requirements aren’t explicitly stated.

Products which carry these labels often come at an increased price as they are presented to be of higher quality and to require a more labour-intensive production process. Artisan bakers and makers of craft beer have warned that supermarkets or large retailers may take advantage of these labels, charging a higher price for the products.

When it comes to labelling food as ‘organic’ there are more stringent regulations. Products must be certified by the Soil Association, Organic Food Federation or Organic Farmers and Growers CIC to carry the ‘organic’ label.

Keeping pace with change – the rise of veganism and plant-based diets

With the rapid change in British tastes and demands, such as the increased demand for vegan and plant-based products, the food industry needs to introduce rapid change.

The term vegan has a lack of a legal definition; however, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has supplied voluntary guidance on the use ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ in food labelling. This guidance includes advice about cross contamination. It suggests that “manufacturers, retailers and caterers should be able to demonstrate that foods presented as ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ have not been contaminated with non-vegetarian or non-vegan foods during storage, preparation, cooking or display.”

The rise in plant-based, meat substitutes has provoked consumer concerns for mislabelling. As these products become mainstream, the supply and manufacture of foods is becoming increasingly complex. The producers and distributors of these products may find themselves responsible for misrepresentation, should there be mislabelling present. In the midst of this, the role of leadership and the encouragement of a culture which aims to minimise the risk of food fraud is increasingly important.

Reducing the risk of food fraud

Rigour and stringent measures must be present at all stages of the supply chain to avoid mislabelling or misrepresentation. In addition, it is just as important to instil a culture throughout the supply chain which discourages food fraud and highlights the importance of consumer trust.

Your team are your eyes are ears – they can provide valuable insight about issues within your business or processes which require attention. Engage with them, encourage communication and, in return, they will help you to identify issues and suggest resolutions, as they are better placed to recognise practical solutions. In this case, these issues could be within the supply chain which have led to unintentional food fraud.

Reducing the risk of food fraud is as much about rigorous processes and clearly defined policies as it is about ensuring a culture which is supported by those policies and procedures. This can result in better information sharing practices as well as whistleblowing throughout the entire food industry – mitigating the overall risk of food fraud.
For more information on how you can better prevent or investigate fraud within your business, get in touch or call 0121 796 4020.

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