The POSTnote provides an overview of food fraud, including its drivers and impacts. It discusses methods for food authenticity testing, broader strategies to prevent food fraud and impacts of EU exit.
- Foods that are commonly reported to be adulterated include herbs and spices, coffee, seafood, honey and olive oil.
- In addition to affecting consumer choice and confidence, food fraud may pose a public health risk. In 2016, a restaurant owner was sentenced to prison after substituting almond powder with mixed nut powder containing peanuts, resulting in the death of a customer.
- Other impacts on consumers include loss of nutrition and inadvertent consumption of foods that are normally restricted for ethical or religious reasons.
- Businesses may suffer financial losses following food fraud incidents due to factory closure, product recalls or destruction of contaminated ingredients or products. Companies may also suffer reputational damage.
- A range of UK laws and regulation contribute to preventing food fraud. The majority of law relating to food in the UK is based on the Food Safety Act 1990, which prohibits food which is not of the nature, substance or quality that consumers would expect, and describing or presenting food in a false or misleading way.
- Public bodies responsible detecting and mitigating food fraud include local authorities, government departments and regulators. In England, Defra is responsible for policy and legislation on food labelling and composition. It is also responsible for the Government’s food authenticity research programme, which identifies risks to food authenticity and develops and validates food testing methods.
- Strategies to detect and prevent food fraud broadly fall into two categories: scientific analysis to test the authenticity of foods and broader mitigation strategies including intelligence gathering, vulnerability assessments and economic analysis strategies.
- Each food business has its own approach to testing the authenticity of its products. Food retailers often have contractual agreements with suppliers that require them to carry out authenticity testing of their ingredients. Large food retailers, such as supermarkets, typically have their own routine monitoring programmes.
- There are a variety of analytical techniques that can be used to test for adulterated food and drink and often a combination of methods will be used.
- Testing can be targeted (whereby the analysis looks for a pre-defined characteristic, such as a specific adulterants or section of DNA), or non-targeted (whereby multiple measurements of a sample are taken using a variety of techniques to obtain a sample’s ‘chemical fingerprint’)
- Barriers to tackling food fraud relate to the cost and capability of authenticity testing, perpetrators changing their mode of operation, and a complex regulatory enforcement system.
- The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said that there is no evidence to suggest the UK will be at more risk from food crime after the Brexit transition period. However, some stakeholders have raised concerns that EU exit may impact the UK’s vulnerability to food fraud.
- Concerns relate to checks on food imports, the UK’s food testing capacity and the extent of UK access to EU food fraud intelligence networks.