• Dr Janine Curll

Food Fraud still an issue in global food supply chains says UK Parliament

NEWS FROM THE UK: The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology provides in its POSTnote (Number 624) an overview of the current evidence on food fraud. This blog piece summaries its main points.

  • There is no university-agreed definition of food fraud, the NOTE refers to the list of activities universally typed as food fraud activities: Adulteration, substitution, misrepresentation/mislabelling, counterfeiting, theft, diversion, over-run and unlawful processing and documentation fraud.

  • Food fraud is carried out for economic gain.

  • Top foods for fraud: herbs & spices, coffees, seafood, honey and olive oil

  • Factors that facilitate food fraud:

Pressure on supply - scarcity of raw ingredients drive prices up and increase the use of alternative ingredients in food production; suppliers may cut corners to compete on contracts under prices pressure

Supply chain complexities - length and complexity of food supply lines lead to lack of traceability, increasing detection difficulties

Technology - eCommerce is increasing risks

Penalities are low and not a deterrent

  • Authenticity testing

Food retailers often require authenticity testing of supplier ingredients.

Limited capacity to test on-site of suppliers.

  • Analysis

Targetted or non-targetted analytical testing include techniques:

Isotopes, small molecules (detect added dyes, chemicals) and DNA (PCR - targetted)

Official laboratories testing in the UK has declined over the last ten years;

Local authority funding for authenticity testing has fallen in 5 years, leading to a reduction in testing;

Comprehensive databases of DNA/elemental fingerprinting are required;

No official standards for developing and validating non-targetted testing methods;

Obtaining reference material samples to build databases is difficult.

  • Novel Techniques

Are developing with respect to mass spectrometry (portable), non-invasive tests to detect adulterants.

Developing broader mitigation strategies include Intelligence Sharing and EU RASFF

  • Vulnerability Assessments

Help identify potential areas of vulnerability in supply chains.

  • Economic Analysis

Strategies that incorporate economic analysis of market data (the price of ingredients and trade volume) could help predict food fraud events. There is an increasing interest in forensic accounting - analysing food business records.

  • Impacts of Brexit

Although there is no evidence to suggest the UK will be at an increased risk of food crime directly due to Brexit, there are concerns the departure from the EU will include departure from intelligence networks relied upon by the Local Governments of the UK.

After the transition period foods imported into the UK will be checked and processed at UK borders. Import controls will be introduced on all EU goods, including food, entering the UK (February 2020). Although, concerns have been raised the UK does not have the capacity to check all foods, meaning food fraud will enter following no detection.

  • Barriers to tackling food fraud

Lack of a globally agreed definition makes it difficult to assess the scale of the problem;

Authenticity testing is too expensive and hard to access

Challenges with lack of databases for comparative authenticity checks in the lab;

Enforcement for regulations is entrusted by different bodies of regulators

Limitations on UK National Food Crime Unit investigation powers are challenging enforcement outcomes.

For extensive references, see the source document via the link.


POST is an office of both Houses of Parliament, charged with providing independent and balanced analysis of policy issues that have a basis in science and technology.

POST is grateful to Sophie Mountcastle for researching this briefing, to the Royal Society of Chemistry for funding her parliamentary fellowship, and to all contributors and

reviewers. For further information on this subject, please contact the co-author, Dr Lorna Christie. Parliamentary Copyright 2020.


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