Why is Food Crime Rising?

Why is Food Crime Rising?

Food crime is a relatively new term for a very old problem. There are records of the phenomenon dating back to the Greeks and Romans. The Romans made the adulteration of wine illegal, and in the middle ages, people were pilloried for tampering with meat, beer and bread.

Although we no longer put people in the stocks in the town square for it, food crime is still a problem today. One that keeps growing.

What is food crime?

Food crime is loosely defined as dishonesty or criminality at any point of the food, drink and animal feed supply chain and references activity that is financially motivated – usually theft or fraud.

Previously, we blogged about the types of food crime and which products are most often affected. Food crimes includes theft, misrepresentation, adulteration, waste diversion and fraud.

With increasing legislation surrounding food safety, traceability and allergy labelling, I’m sure we don’t need to explain why not knowing what is in the food we buy or what might have happened to it along the supply chain could present a huge danger to the public. Food crime can have serious health impacts and leaves businesses and consumers in the dark about what they might be selling or buying.

Aside from the obvious public health risks, food crime costs the global food industry an estimated EUR 30billion every year.

Food crime is big business – and it’s getting bigger.

Why is food crime rising?

The most obvious answer is because crime pays. The second most obvious answer is that distraction is an opportunity for deception, and there have been a lot of distractions over the last two years.

According to the FSA’s Food Crime Strategic Assessment 2020, the strain on global law enforcement services combined with massive supply chain disruption and an overnight shift in consumer behaviour has created a perfect breeding ground for food criminals.

Dramatic changes to peoples incomes and disposable incomes necessitated an increase in demand for cheaper products at the expense of quality and traceability.

In addition, Brexit has been blamed for effectively leaving the door open for food fraudsters due to delays in implementing safety and standards legislation.

These circumstances combined created a perfect opportunity for unscrupulous individuals to take advantage of consumers.

A recent crackdown led by Europol and Interpol has shown a marked rise in instances of food crime throughout the global pandemic. Operation OPSON, which ran from December 2020 to June 2021, showed that the pandemic has massively accelerated food crime throughout Europe and across the rest of the world.

What are examples of food crimes that Operation OPSON uncovered?

○ Counterfeit spirits and alcohol were top of the list of food crimes discovered in 2020. OPSON 2020 seized 47,660 litres of fake whiskey, treated with colourants to replicate the usual colour of genuine whiskey.

○ Products with Geographical Indications (GIs) like Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma from the famous Parma region of Italy, Roquefort cheese and Champagne from France.

○ 7% of tested honey proved to be fraudulent, having been adulterated with sugar or corn syrup.

○ Olive oil remains one of the most adulterated substances in circulation, with an enormous 80% of Italian Olive Oil estimated to be fraudulent.

Photo by Quin Engle on Unsplash


Europol’s executive director Catherine De Bolle warns: “Counterfeit and substandard food and beverage can be found both on the physical market and sold online. The increased health risk for consumers is proportional to the reduced quality of raw materials used in the food processing system.”

What part do UK businesses play in reducing food crime?

As we explored in a previous blog, reporting any instances of criminal or dishonest behaviour you have come across is paramount to supporting the UK and International law enforcement agencies in eradicating food crime.

The UK is generally considered to have a safe and reliable food trade. Our heavily regulated industry involves a legal requirement to have a food traceability system for all food businesses.

A robust food traceability system should be part of any food business’s operations
These days, the only real answer to food traceability for your business is a digital solution. Preferably a cloud-based, agile, single or multi-site data storage system that can be accessed by all areas of the business on demand.

Backwards and forwards traceability is an area of your business that you simply cannot afford to miss out or get wrong. A lack of traceability equals a lack of product integrity, and a lack of accountability for you and your business and can lead to costly recall and withdrawal procedures.

In worst case scenarios, human and animal lives can be at risk. All of us have a part to play in protecting consumers from eating food that has been tampered with or comes from unknown and unregulated sources.

Our consultancy services may be just what you need to ensure your food traceability system is up to the task. Find out more about how we can help.