Types of Food Fraud to be aware of

We have previously posted a broad definition of food fraud, but in this post we want to explain the various food fraud types in more detail. Here, we explore what food adulteration is and some other prevalent examples of food fraud within the industry, as well as how our specialist St Pauls Chambers barristers can help.

What Is Food Fraud?

Food fraud is different to food safety. All businesses that involve food are subject to compliance with the Food Safety Act 1990, and the definition of food fraud refers to the improper handling, labelling or sourcing of foodstuffs, typically for financial gain. There are many different types of food fraud including adulteration, misrepresentation, substitution, simulating and counterfeiting, among others. Due to the potential threat to public health from violations, food fraud is taken very seriously.

According to Article 9 of the OCR Regulation (EU) 2017/625:

  1. Competent authorities shall perform official controls on all operators regularly, on a risk basis and with appropriate frequency, taking account of:

[….] any information indicating the likelihood that consumers might be misled, in particular as to the nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production of food.

  1. Competent authorities shall perform official controls regularly, with appropriate frequencies determined on a risk basis, to identify possible intentional violations of the rules[….] perpetrated through fraudulent or deceptive practices, and taking into account information regarding such violations shared through the mechanisms of administrative assistance.

What Is Food Adulteration?

One of the most prevalent examples of food fraud is adulteration. This is where something fraudulent is added to a food product that is not on the label, usually to lower costs or create a false sense of quality.

There are several prolific examples of food adulteration. One of the biggest in the UK was the 2013 horsemeat scandal, wherein some supermarket beef products were found to contain other meats, including pork and horse.

This not only brought religion into question (as some groups, including Jewish people and Islamic people, may have decided not to consume pork) but also food safety. Some of the horses that went into the food were racehorses – this could have entered phenylbutazone into the supply chain, a veterinary drug banned in food animals.

What Other Examples of Food Fraud Are There?

There are many different types of food fraud besides adulteration.

Types of Food Fraud Description Examples of Food Fraud
Misrepresentation Marking a product with false claims about its freshness, origin or quality. Stating a product is organic when it isn’t, or prolonging the use-by date.
Substitution Replacing a food product or ingredient of a food product with something similar of a lower standard or quality. Seafood has long been a target of substitution, with a recent study revealing that across 30 countries, 36% of the tested samples were mislabelled. For example, 48% of the king scallops tested were, in fact, Japanese scallops, a cheaper and less-coveted option.
Illegal Processing Preparing meat and other food products within premises or using techniques that are not approved or regulated. This posed a particular problem within the UK halal sheep industry, with products being sold as ‘halal’ even though they were not slaughtered in accordance with official guidelines.
Diversion Distributing products outside of their intended market. Sending relief food to markets where aid is not required.
Theft Acquiring food through illegitimate means and selling it on to make a profit. In 2019, packed meat was the number one most stolen item, with cheese not far below it on the list, as these products can retain a high resell value.
Simulation A product is created and marketed in a very similar way to a legitimate product, but is not exactly the same. Producing ‘knock-offs’ of popular foods without the same health and safety regulations.
Counterfeiting Attempting to sell an illegitimate product that has been copied from or mimics its legitimate counterpart. Producing a copy of a popular product, without the same food safety assurances.
Dilution Mixing two liquids in order to increase quantity. Adding water to milk to be able to sell more milk.

Notable Examples of Food Fraud Cases

Chinese Milk Scandal

Many foods have been found to contain toxic contaminations, but the 2008 Chinese milk scandal made global news after it was discovered that some milk powder was contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine. Melamine is used to make plastics, fertilisers and concrete, and when consumed, can cause kidney stones and kidney failure. It was mostly found in powdered milk formula, resulting in 300,000 infants falling ill and the death of six babies. Two years later, in 2010, 64 tonnes of milk were seized in China for the same issue.

Pret-A-Manger x CoYo

In 2017, a Pret customer tragically died after consuming a supposedly ‘dairy-free’ flatbread. It then transpired that the flatbread has been made with CoYo yogurt, a dairy-free yogurt brand. After some investigation, it was revealed in February 2018 that some of CoYo’s products were contaminated with dairy. CoYo has continued to deny responsibility for the customer’s death.

American Peanuts

Stewart Parnell is now serving jail time for knowingly shipping salmonella-contaminated peanuts into the USA, which he then used to create peanut butter. Nine victims died and over 700 Americans fell ill, resulting in the recall of over 3,000 products made by 361 companies. According to inspectors, over 12 samples of peanuts were contaminated with salmonella. Worse, the Peanut Corporation of America would sometimes ship out peanuts before the salmonella results came back, some of which would be positive.

What Foods Are Most Susceptible to Food Fraud?

  • Tea

In some severe food fraud examples, tea leaves may be mixed with pre-used tea leaves, or even dyed dust or starch.

  • Coffee

Where some companies claim that their coffee is organic, ethical or fairtrade, but this is proven to be false.

  • Fish

A common type of food fraud is fish being sold as a more expensive species when, in reality, it is a cheaper variety, such as basa being sold as cod.

  • Saffron

Saffron is more expensive than gold in weight, and so it’s no surprise that is a common example of food fraud. It is often mixed with dust, sandalwood, turmeric or even coloured grass.

  • Fruit Juice

Juices such as orange juice may be thinned with other cheaper citrus fruits, such as lemons or limes, in order to bulk the quantity.

  • Honey

Honey may be diluted with sugar or fructose syrup, and is often misrepresented as organic, or with a different country of origin.

  • Olive Oil

Pure olive oil is often mixed with cheaper oils such as rapeseed oil or sunflower oil, to dilute the oil in order to make it go further. This is a common food fraud example, and there have been many previous scandals linked to olive oil, such as the Spanish Olive Oil Scandal.

If your client is being investigated for any type of food fraud by the Food Standards Agency, please get in touch with us at St Pauls Chambers today. Our specialist food safety barristers are well-versed in food safety law and have experience with prosecution and defence concerning various food-related accusations.

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