Stuart Shotton, consultancy services manager at Food Chain Europe, told FoodNavigator.com that the conference highlighted the need for local authorities to be better informed about the various methods available to them to help tackle the issue.
He also added that it is necessary to “raise the profile” of food fraud and place it higher on the agenda, as it is currently not being treated as a high-priority matter by authorities.
A spokesperson for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said that the agency “takes the issue of food fraud very seriously and although we do not believe that there is a significant problem in the UK, when it does occur, we have a responsibility to protect the consumer.”
Authorities must do more for brand protection
Shotton said the majority of challenges facing the food industry at present are related to authenticity and the claims made on labels about the origin and quality of food products.
He used the example of meat and mentioned how in one case, fraudulent manufacturers bleached unfit cuts of meat to make them appear whiter in colour in order to fool consumers. According to Shotton, other typical counterfeit products include fruit juices and alcoholic beverages.
Shotton notes that it is primarily “high-end, premium branded” products that are targets of food fraud. He feels more needs to be done by authorities to protect brands from this form of “intellectual property crime” – whereby high-quality brands are essentially imitated and copied by deceitful manufacturers with a relatively “low chance of getting caught.”
Greater “diligence” required from businesses and agencies alike
Shotton acknowledged it is “hard to pinpoint” the extent of food fraud, but said agencies are reluctant to “scratch too far underneath the surface for fear of what they might find.”
Although the FSA established a national food fraud database in 2007 to “identify emerging patterns of fraudulent activity”, Shotton observed more needs to be done by local authorities and food businesses.
The most effective way of addressing the issue is if they are both “more diligent” in their risk assessment of products, and put systems in place to verify the authenticity of products.
Shotton suggested they increase the use of methods available to them such as Polymerase Chain Reaction and Stable Isotope Testing in analysing product origin. These methods are now “cheaper and more established”, he said, advocating that central government agencies need “to push out more information about them.”