Fake booze needs action from Food Crime Unit

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

Fake alcohol requires urgent action from the new Food Crime Unit
Fake alcohol requires urgent action from the new Food Crime Unit

Related tags Food crime unit Fraud

Alcohol fraud has to be given more attention and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) must take action to tackle the crime with its new £2M Food Crime Unit (FCU) soon, a leading lawyer has urged.

The call follows two big discoveries of fraudulent alcohol in recent months, including gallons of potentially deadly vodka spiked with anti-freeze on sale across the UK, as well as cheap wine being sold to consumers as more expensive varieties.

Faking alcohol is rife in the UK. It is increasing as Trading Standards’ (TS’s) resources shrink and as fraudsters become ever more sophisticated, said David Young, partner at the law firm Eversheds.

“Local authorities (LAs) just don’t have the resources to do the testing that they could 20 years ago,”​ Young claimed. “TS used to go out to pubs on a regular basis to test whether the alcohol served was legitimate – now that’s almost unheard of.”

Budget cuts

A recent survey from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health revealed that half of LAs had seen a reduction in staff due to budget cuts and a quarter were planning more reductions in the future, which was increasing pressure on their already strained resources.

It was estimated by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association last year that 20% of the 1bn litres of wine sold in the UK each year was either fake or illegally imported. It is also believed by some experts that more than a quarter of licenced premises in the UK are knowingly or unknowingly selling fake alcohol.

As there was such a shortage of LA staff, the FSA’s FCU was the UK’s best chance at tackling the problem of alcohol fraud, said Young.

However, little had been heard about the FCU’s current status and Young wondered when the FSA would be able to use it to tackle the problem effectively. “Here we are in 2015, the final version of Professor Chris Elliott’s report into the horsemeat scandal – which recommended the FCU – was published in September last year,” ​he said.


“It all seems to be going painfully slowly and part of the problem with that is we don’t have a credible unit established to take on the problem.”

An FSA spokeswoman confirmed the FCU was operational and alcohol was one of its five priority areas. “During its first phase, the FCU will focus on building the intelligence and evidence picture of the risks and the nature of food fraud and food crime in the UK,”​ she said.

“Following a series of ongoing incidents involving counterfeit alcohol (particularly vodka), the FCU is collecting evidence to understand the extent and severity of illicit alcohol production in the UK,” ​the spokeswoman added.

Related topics Legal Drinks

Related news

Show more

Follow us

Featured Jobs

View more


Food Manufacture Podcast

Listen to the Food Manufacture podcast