Will Creswell, head of consumer protection at the FSA, said the food industry was always susceptible to criminal activity, but food fraud – namely dishonesty relating to food production or supply that could impact consumers detrimentally – was much harder to detect.
Addressing a Westminster Food & Nutrition seminar, held in London last month, he stressed that industry whistleblowers would be treated in the strictest confidence.
Food Industry Intelligence Network
He said initiatives such as the Food Industry Intelligence Network, part of the National Food Crime Unit – which was set up last year in wake of the horsemeat scandal – should make it easier for manufacturers to report suspected fraud.
He said: “To use a biology analogy, a good parasite doesn't kill its host. And in the same way, if you're a food fraudster, you don't want the end consumer to find out you're defrauding them, so you're cunning about it. That's why detecting food fraud relies heavily on insider information.”
Creswell said that the FSA planned to start campaigning on human intelligence gathering, because it needed consumers to better understand where the vulnerabilities lay, and how they should look out and report suspected problems.
‘We also need whistleblowers’
“We also need whistleblowers within food business organisations to let us know of malpractice – and we’ve had a few instances of that happening fairly recently. There is no obvious evidence of organised crime in the UK food industry. I would suggest the complexities of the food supply chain has something to do with that.”
Food fraud cost UK FTSE-listed companies alone an estimated £103bn in 2013–14, according to a report by PKF Littlejohn and the Centre for Counter Fraud Studies at the University of Portsmouth.
The average sum organisations lose to fraud around the globe is equivalent to 5.6% of expenditure, the report concluded.