The Food Crime Reporting Hotline was launched in December 2016, with the aim of encouraging industry insiders to report any cases of deceit when it comes to the sale, manufacture and supply of food. The hotline was launched in support of an assessment carried out by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland.
With the UK food and drink industry worth a reported £200 billion each year, there is now a renewed focus on food crime due to a change in social attitudes towards food and drink. Despite this, reports of food crime are relatively low and crime is difficult to identify all of which has caused businesses to take shortcuts and exploit a flawed system.
What is food crime?
Essentially, food crime is any form of dishonesty that relates to the production or supply of food which is likely to cause harm to consumers, businesses or the public. Therefore, the main priority for UK law enforcement agencies is centered around fraud which affects quality.
An example of this was the widespread horsemeat scandal that rocked the UK and Irish food industry in 2013. Following this revelation, three men were charged in 2016 in connection with the scandal.
Room for growth
However, food crime goes beyond just that of fraud because there is the potential to manipulate the market, force labour and theft. It is possible for businesses to pay fake customers to make purchases of their food products or make enquiries over the phone, in-store and online. This can be done in an attempt to increase demand while encouraging stores to actively stock their brand. This ability to fool the market can cause problems throughout the whole industry, particularly for the agricultural commodity market which is vulnerable at the best of times.
Why investigation and enforcement benefits the public
There have been a number of examples as to how far and wide food crime can reach, particularly as it develops into a new form of criminal law that is separated from the current food safety and hygiene framework.
To many, it may seem like the examples are not all that serious but it is the implications that they can have that can be damaging to both the public and the economy. In its rawest form, it equates to market abuse but it can have significant problems for businesses as it can force them out of the market as they are unable to compete. In terms of the consumers, it has a real possibility of damaging health.
This increase in the awareness of food crime and how it causes problems will leave those companies that operate in the food and drink industry understanding where their products originated from and how they are being sold to the market – this is a knowledge that is likely to grow. This will also cause businesses to have full transparency over every aspect of their process such as distribution, supply, ingredients, conduct and worker treatment.
So, while criminal activity in the food and drink industry is nothing new, the time and money being put into the investigation of these wrongdoings is proving that tackling food crime is one area that is going to continue to develop, for the ultimate benefit of the consumer.
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