Reports of food crime rise to highest level since 2013 horsemeat scandal

CIPS 14 October 2019

Food crime is notoriously difficult for businesses to identify, often occurring several tiers down their supply chain and in countries far away from the end consumer

  • 1,193 reports of food crime were made to the Food Crime Unit last year
  • 32% of reports this year were for the sale of substances deemed unsafe for human consumption
  • Figures highlight the role businesses have in interrogating the integrity of their supply chains

Reports of food crime have returned to levels last seen around the time of the horsemeat scandal according to a freedom of information request by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS).

Almost 7,000 (6,970) reports of food crime were recorded in the Food Crime Intelligence database between 1st January 2013 and 31st March 2019. 1,193 of these were made in 2018, the highest level since 2013. There have since been 364 reports of food crime in the first three months of 2019 alone.

Food crime is notoriously difficult for businesses to identify, often occurring several tiers down their supply chain and in countries far away from the end consumer.

Malcolm Harrison, Group CEO, at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply 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 andthat 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.”

Food crime can vary from the deliberate mislabelling of a product to the fraudulent substitution of an ingredient for a cheaper, potentially unsafe alternative. The most common food crime reported to the database since 2016, is the ‘knowing sale of food substances not suitable for human consumption’, a practice that could have serious consequences for public health. Across 2018 there were 310 reported cases, a steep jump from the previous year, when only 73 cases were reported. In fact, nearly a third (32%) of food crime reports made this year fall under this classification.

The Food Standards Authority, which is the body ultimately responsible for tracking the reports, notes that fluctuations in the number of reports may be due to external factors including awareness of the National Food Crime Unit and the reporting facility, while some crimes may be reported several times. The reported incidents will also not all be of the same magnitude.

Malcolm Harrison, added:

“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.

“It is surprising, therefore, that while the number of reports of food crime continues to rise, prosecutions remain stubbornly low. Food fraudsters put lives at risk in order to bolster their profits, it is time for criminal prosecutions to rise.”

About the data

The Food Crime Intelligence database is administered by the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU), which was set up in 2015 to tackle serious fraud within food supply chains. The NFCU receives reports of food crime from a variety of sources, including the public, local authorities and public bodies.

Media Q&A

Do you have a breakdown of the number of reports per year?

Yes, please see a breakdown below:

01/01/2013 to 31/12/2013   1517 reports 

01/01/2014 to 31/12/2014    895 reports 

01/01/2015 to 31/12/2015    796 reports

01/01/2016 to 31/12/2016   1035 reports

01/01/2017 to 31/12/2017    1116 reports

01/01/2018 to 31/12/2018    1193 reports

01/01/2019 to 01/03/2019   364 reports


What are the National Food Crime Unit’s main categories of food crime?

  • Theft - - dishonestly appropriating food, drink or feed products in order to profit from their use or sale.
  • Unlawful processing - slaughtering or preparing meat and related products in unapproved premises or using unauthorised techniques.
  • Waste diversion - unlawfully diverting food, drink or feed meant for disposal, back into the supply chain.
  • Adulteration - reducing the quality of food by including a foreign substance, in order to lower costs or fake a higher quality.
  • Substitution - replacing a food or ingredient with another substance that is similar but inferior.
  • Misrepresentation - marketing or labelling a product to wrongly portray its quality, safety, origin or freshness.
  • Document fraud - includes the making, use and possession of false documents with the intent to sell, market or otherwise vouch for a fraudulent or substandard product.

Which year has seen the highest number of reports made to the National Food Crime Unit?

2013 saw the highest number of food crime reports.

Do you know how many of these reported crimes were investigated?

The National Food Crime Unit is unable to provide the outcome of reported cases. This information is being withheld under section 30 (Investigations and proceedings) and section 31 (Law enforcement) of the Fraud Act 2006.

Do you know how many food crime prosecutions there have been across the past few years?

The National Food Crime Unit does not have this information as there is no obligation for partner agencies to provide feedback about action taken in response to intelligence disseminated by the unit.

Are these reports of food crime all investigated by the police?

No, reports do not necessarily equal offences and multiple reports may be received for one incident.  The FSA was unable to provide a specific number or ratio of reports investigated.


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