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First assessment of food crime in the UK published

23 March 2016  •  Author(s): Victoria White

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has published the first assessment of food crime in the UK.

food crime

The Food Crime Annual Strategic Assessment (FCASA), carried out by the FSA’s National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) on behalf of the FSA and Food Standards Scotland, examines the scale and nature of the food crime threat to the UK’s £200 billion food and drink industry. The assessment will inform the NFCU’s priorities over the next year.

The assessment was carried out to highlight themes and trends in food crime intelligence; establish a baseline understanding of the UK food crime threat; enable the prioritisation of issues which pose the greatest risk of harm and identify gaps in understanding.

The assessment identifies a wide range of vulnerabilities and risks across the food industry but found little to suggest that organised crime groups have so far made substantial in-roads into UK food supply chains.  However, with the UK food and drink sector representing 11% of the UK economy and chances of detection relatively low, the report suggests there remains a significant risk to consumers and legitimate businesses from serious fraud.

Commenting on the assessment, Andy Morling, Head of the NFCU, said: “This assessment confirms that while the UK continues to have some of the safest and most authentic food in the world, we must remain vigilant to ensure we keep it that way.”

NFCU established after the horsemeat scandal

The NFCU was established following the horsemeat incident that rocked the food industry. As well as highlighting the complex nature of the supply chain in the food industry, the horsemeat scandal made many consumers aware, probably for the first time, of food fraud.

Morling added: “In our first year, the NFCU has worked in partnership with local authorities, police forces, other agencies across government, in the UK and abroad, to share intelligence and help take action where a threat has been identified. This is the first time we have had a law enforcement capability focused exclusively on food related crime. Working in partnership in this way ensures other agencies with a role to play in tackling food crime are not working in isolation.

“We’ve come a long way in our first year but this assessment makes clear that there is much more to be done.  For many reasons unique to this form of crime, intelligence about food criminals is in short supply. Whilst we are working hard to gather information, we are calling on those working in the food industry to report suspicions to the NFCU to help fill these gaps. I’m confident that they have a wealth of knowledge and information which will help the unit ensure that UK food supply remains protected. I would like to re-assure the public and industry that we will handle all such information with the utmost sensitivity.”

The new report takes a two-stage approach to its assessment of food crime. It first highlights the broad current understanding of food-related criminality in the UK, exploring the range of harm to consumers, industry and other UK interests. The second stage is a review of reported threats and an assessment of the risk they pose.

The FCASA will be carried out annually to ensure the FSA keeps UK consumers and businesses informed of the risks from food crime.

You can find out more about food fraud in New Food’s infographic here. You can also listen to New Food’s webinar ‘Addressing complex and critical food integrity issues using the latest analytical technologies’. In the webinar, Chris Elliot, Professor of Food Safety and Director of the Institute for Global Food Security, Queen’s University Belfast, and Sara Stead, Senior Strategic Collaborations Manager, Food & Environmental, Waters Corporation, discuss food fraud and authenticity testing.

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