Four sectors identified as vulnerable to food crime in Scotland

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Red meat, fish, alcohol and wild shellfish have been highlighted as high risk and vulnerable to food crime in Scotland.

Food Standards Scotland’s Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit (SFCIU) said these areas of concern have previously and continue to be targeted by criminals, impacting consumers and responsible businesses.

The sectors identified as food crime priorities for 2020 and 2021 are not listed as high risk because they pose a direct safety issue to consumers or because they are less vigilant.

Specific sector concerns
For red meat there are concerns in relation to fraudulently tagged livestock, misrepresentation either by origin or durability date, stolen livestock, illegal slaughter and substitution of product.

For fish, issues center around lower quality product sold as premium, misrepresentation of origin, particularly salmon, import of illegally treated tuna, fraudulent use of official certification in UK and elsewhere impact of EU exit on Scottish supply chain and potential for durability problems.

Counterfeit alcohol entering Scotland via Northern Ireland is a concern. As is import or smuggling of fake vodka and production of illicit alcohol in the country, sale of counterfeit wine and spirits and import and use of material and equipment to help imitation alcohol production.

Finally, there are serious food safety risks associated with illegally harvested shellfish and hygiene conditions. Misrepresentation of quality and origin of shellfish, falsification of registration and landing documents and links to modern slavery and exploitation are other problems.

Ron McNaughton, head of SFCIU at Food Standards Scotland, said no supply chain is immune to the potential threat of food crime.

“The food and drink industry is one of three lines of defense against food crime, alongside consumers and regulators and law enforcement, significantly supporting the SFCIU in the investigation of criminality and the development of approaches to prevent food crime in order to protect the well-earned reputation of Scottish produce,” he said.

Revised food crime review
Meanwhile, the UK food crime assessment plan has been revised by FSS and the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It examines areas of the supply chain that may be vulnerable to food crime and identifies emerging threats to be addressed, updating a 2016 publication.

The National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) was established by FSA in December 2014 and has more than 80 employees while SFCIU was created in 2015 and had 16 staff as of late 2019. A Freedom of Information request from the Liberal Democrat political party showed NFCU funding rose from about £420,000 ($542,000) in 2015/16 to more than £5.7m ($7.3 million) in 2020/21. Both agencies have been criticized for a lack of publicized prosecutions.

The assessment found most food crime relates to either selling something of little or no value to the food chain as edible and marketable, or selling food, drink or feed as a product with greater volume or more desirable attributes. This could include replacing ingredients with cheaper and inferior materials, extending use-by dates, or marketing unsafe products as fit for consumption.

Darren Davies, head of the NFCU, said vulnerability can exist anywhere along the route from farm to fork, in the UK or overseas.

“As we face new challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we aim to create a hostile environment for those engaging in food crime and will continue to work with partners to ensure that food is safe and what it says it is,” he said.

The document states there is no evidence to suggest the UK will be at more risk from food crime as a result of leaving the EU.

Issues continue around foodstuffs known to be at high risk for food fraud such as olive oil and some herbs and spices. Other areas of concern are fish industry sampling identifying lower levels of non-compliance than local authority checks, eggs subject to misrepresentation of date, quality and provenance, and diversion of waste products. Local authority testing has also identified CBD products which contain no cannabidiol or levels of THC.

The NFCU Control Strategy for 2020 and 2021 includes non-foods like the chemical 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP), marketed as a weight loss aid. DNP consumption has been linked to 31 deaths since 2007 in the UK and one in 2020.

Illegal shellfish harvesting, the red meat sector, demand for products from home countries and cultures, the role of e-commerce and COVID-19 are other areas of focus.

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