In 2013, horse DNA was found in a number of products including burgers and ready meals © Getty Images
In 2013, horse DNA was found in a number of products including burgers and ready meals © Getty Images

Food crime reports at six-year high

14 October 2019

Reports of food crime in the UK have returned to levels last seen around the 2013 horse meat scandal.

According to data, revealed following a freedom of information request by CIPS, there were almost 7,000 reports of food crime between 1 January 2013 and 31 March 2019.

In 2018, 1,193 instances were recorded by the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) National Food Crime Unit (NFCU). There were a further 364 reports in the first three months of 2019 alone. 

The number of reports were at their highest since 2013, when tests revealed horse DNA in a number of supermarket products in the UK and Europe, including burgers and ready meals. Over 1,500 complaints were made that year. 

Food crime is difficult for businesses to identify, as it often occurs several tiers down the supply chain. Crimes can vary from the deliberate mislabelling of a product to the fraudulent substitution of an ingredient for a cheaper and potentially unsafe alternative. 

In 2018, there were 310 reported cases of food “not suitable for human consumption” being knowingly sold, a steep jump from the previous year, when only 73 cases were reported. Nearly a third (32%) of food crime reports this year fall under this classification.

Malcolm Harrison, group CEO, CIPS said: “Modern food supply chains are long, complicated and frequently change. Spotting risks in our food supply chains before they become problems requires constant vigilance, especially in times of change. Questioning, knowing and not blindly accepting where food products come from is key.

“Businesses must ensure that supply chains are transparent and that goods can be tracked from their source. It is important to visit suppliers and introduce regular quality and compliance checks to ensure sound international supply chain practices.

“As a society we are not willing to compromise on the quality, origin and ethical sourcing of our food. However, as these figures show, potentially harmful substances are still finding their way into our food supply chains and potentially onto store shelves.”

The FSA said rise in the number of reports could be due to external factors such as increased awareness of the NFCU and multiple complaints being made about the same incident. 

In 2014 the Elliott review, which investigated the horse meat scandal, said the government must work to tackle food crime by gathering intelligence, improving laboratory testing services and auditing supply chains.

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