Organised crime could infiltrate food industry

By John Wood

- Last updated on GMT

Organised crime groups are targeting the food industry, warns a new report
Organised crime groups are targeting the food industry, warns a new report

Related tags: Food crime unit, Crime

More than 20 organised crime groups have links to the food industry and counterfeiting and piracy could account for more than £1bn of annual UK food and drink trade, according to a new report.

The Food Crime Annual Strategic Assessment (FCASA), carried out by the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA’s) National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) on behalf of the FSA and Food Standards Scotland, examines the scale and nature of the food crime threat to the UK’s food and drink industry.

The report’s authors say that because of an absence of victim reporting there are no reliable statistics on food-related criminality in the UK.

But its authors found no evidence of widespread organised criminal activity in the sector. “The assessment identifies a wide range of vulnerabilities and risks across the food industry but found little to suggest that organised crime groups have so far made substantial in-roads into UK food supply chains,”​ said the FSA,

The report stated: “Our assessment suggests that organised crime groups haven’t made substantial in-roads into UK food and drink in the way they have in other countries. The barriers to gaining a foothold in the food economy still make food a challenging choice for criminals."

However, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that 2% of global trade is made up by counterfeiting and piracy, and if this is applied to the UK it suggests a potential scale of £1.17bn for the food and drink sector.

Organised crime groups

The FCASA also reports that UK law enforcement data identifies more than 20 organised crime groups (OCGs) whose criminal activities have links to food, drink or animal feed.

It says: “While not all of these OCGs are likely to be involved in food crime, these and many more demonstrate links to food businesses.

“In part this may be because food businesses can offer, through their operating model, opportunities to support other criminal activities.”

Some food businesses can be cash-rich, which is attractive for those wishing to launder the proceeds of criminality.

Also, the infrastructure surrounding a food business may provide opportunities to cover the importation of contraband alongside legitimate food consignments.

Criminal activities

The report warns: “The existence of OCGs whose criminal activities operate through and around food businesses may raise the possibility of further groups migrating into this area of criminality.

“There is a strong case for continued vigilance in this area to ensure the evidenced role of OCGs in food crime does not expand.”

The authors identify a range of motivations to commit food crime, and say that nearly all offending, from small retailers to large food manufacturers, is driven by financial gain.

However, they add: “The pressures of narrow margins and meeting quotas to preserve valuable supplier contracts with major retailers could also be a motivating factor that might lead food business operators to consider engaging in fraudulent activity.

“It is also the case that, for others, the risk of losing such a contract may serve as a significant disincentive for committing fraud.”

Meanwhile, Greencore warned earlier this month that it had been targeted by fraudsters in a recruitment scam​.  

Big Video Debate on food and drink fraud at Foodex

Head of the Food Standards Agency’s Food Crime Unit Andy Morling will be taking part in the Food Manufacture Group's Big Video Debate on food and drink fraud at the Foodex trade event on Monday April 18, between 14.00 and 15.00.

Joining Morling in the panel discussion – Food and drink fraud: protecting your supply chains – will be a range of industry experts. Confirmed speakers include: Professor Tony Hines, director of global regulatory services and crisis management, Leatherhead Food Research and food fraud specialist Professor in accounting at Portsmouth University Lisa Jack.

Submit a question to our expert panel in advance by emailing Mike Stones​.

Two other Big Video Debates at taking place at the show: one on campylobacter between 1100 and 1200 on Monday April 18 and one on skills on Tuesday April 10 between 1130 to 1230.

Meanwhile, 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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