Food crime raids jump 10% amid budget cut fears

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Food safety and authenticity may be compromised by budget cuts
Food safety and authenticity may be compromised by budget cuts

Related tags: Food standards agency, Fast food

A crackdown on food and drink crime by local councils has seen raids rise by 10% over the past three years, but fears remain that budget cuts compromise safety and authenticity, warns commercial law firm EMW.

Raids by trading standards team on outlets such as off licences and takeaway shops rose by 10% from 115 in 2012/13 to 127 in 2014/15, according to EMW.

Despite the rising number of raids, the overall rate remained “low – suggesting that under-resourced councils may be struggling to carry out investigations”,​ it said.

‘Struggling to carry out investigations’

A large majority of raids concerned the illegal selling of counterfeit alcohol. For example Camden Council reported nine raids and subsequent seizure of illicit alcohol within the three year period.

Hackney Council conducted four raids within one year for the sale of counterfeit vodka and wine.

Many raids were sparked by consumers worried that a registered outlet selling food or drink had committed an offence. But trading standards officers also carry out raids based on their own research.

The other main culprit, in addition to counterfeit alcohol, was late night takeaway and fast food outlets, where food can be misrepresented.

EMW consultant Sebastian Calnan said: “Although there has been a rise in raids, consumers will remain concerned that there are many more businesses escaping Trading Standards’ net.”

“Horror stories of takeaways substituting the advertised meat for illegal or unsavoury alternatives have been well publicised.

‘Escaping the trading standards net’

“Although there has been a rise in raids, consumers will remain concerned that there are many more businesses escaping Trading Standards’ net.”

  • Sebastian Calnan, EMW

“Trading standards teams do a great job but without adequate funding or resources  instances of food and drink fraud or miselling may slip through the cracks.”

Staff and budget cuts may have adversely affected local councils’ ability to investigate food crimes, he added.

‘Food hygiene interventions’

“Over the past five years the number of food hygiene interventions has decreased by 6.8%, despite customer complaints rising by 9.3% in the same period,”​ said the law firm. “That suggests councils are struggling to deliver an adequate service.”

Of the 363 raids carried out over the three years, just 45 resulted in an enforcement action or prosecution.

Discrepancies in funding and resources is leading the number of raids undertaken to vary significantly from council to council.

The highest number of raids occurred in Birmingham, where 102 raids were undertaken by trading standards in the past three years.

“Of course we would expect more raids to happen in larger cities like Birmingham, as there are more opportunities for offences to take place,”​ said Calnan. “But the low numbers of raids in other areas and in Great Britain overall are a cause for concern.”

Meanwhile, Greencore revealed last week it had become the target of fraudsters operating a recruitment scam. It also said fraudulent emails, claiming to be from the manufacturer were circulating in the industry.

 

Big Video Debate on fraud at Foodex

Food and drink fraud is the focus of one of three Big Video Debates staged by the Food Manufacture Group at the Foodex trade event on Tuesday April 19, between 14.00 and 15.00.

Taking part in the panel discussion – Food and drink fraud: protecting your supply chains – will be a range of industry experts.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Andy Morling, head of the Food Standards Agency’s Food Crime Unit
  • Professor Lisa Jack, head of the Food Fraud Group at the University of Portsmouth
  • Professor Tony Hines, director of global regulatory services and crisis management, Leatherhead Food Research
The debate will be filmed and selected highlights published on FoodManufacture.co.uk.

Meanwhile, you can submit a question about food fraud​ in advance to our distinguished panel of industry experts. Alternatively, you can ask a question during the debate at Foodex.

Two other Big Video Debates will focus on food and drink industry apprenticeships and combating campylobacter.

Foodex 2016 – the premier trade event for the food and drink processing, packaging, ingredients and logistics industries – will take place at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, between April 18–20.

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