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Food Safety

Britain’s fruit and veg supplies ‘overlapped by drug cartels’

By Nicholas Robinson+

22-Feb-2016
Last updated on 22-Feb-2016 at 08:50 GMT2016-02-22T08:50:09Z

Food fraud is a growing and serious threat to all food businesses, experts have warned
Food fraud is a growing and serious threat to all food businesses, experts have warned

The countries supplying Britain's fresh fruit and vegetables are overlapped by drug-smuggling gangs, an expert in the field has revealed, following warnings that operators may have long-since been at risk of many types of food fraud.

More than 40% of the food eaten in the UK is imported from the likes of central Asia and South America, and makes its way through a very complex system to get here (see image below right), said Queen's University of Belfast Professor Chris Elliott at the Food Standards Agency's #OurFoodFuture summit this month.

 

The complex global food supply chain, as described by Elliott

Food fraud has always been a growing danger for food businesses, but was thrust into the spotlight following the 2013 horsemeat crisis.

"The world criminal map (see image below left) and the world food map overlap very well," added Elliott. "The places we get fresh fruit and veg from are overlapped by drugs cartels."

'Trafficking of illegal food products'

"All of those arrows on the food map go to the EU and there's a huge overlap in the international gangs with the trafficking of illegal food products."

 

The world criminal map easily overlaps with the world food map, says Elliott

Situations determining what type of food fraud businesses could face varied from fluctuations in the value of currency, to crop failures, he explained.

"When you get fluctuations in currency, you get massive influxes of food fraud. Cheap food and how cheap we can make it gives people a wonderful incentive."

Crop failures caused by the changing climate was a big food fraud activator, claimed Elliott. "Last year, the cumin crop failure in south Asia led to fraud, the olive oil crop also failed in Italy last year and that led to criminal activity."

Other examples of fraud food that operators may have unknowingly encountered in recent years include Parmesan cheese bulked out with cardboard, an array of herbs and spices adulterated to boost their weight and knowingly mislabelled produce, he added.

"When you look at the label of food, we pay more if you know where it's from and if it's organic," said Elliott.

Almost impossible to spot

Other food fraud:

Other examples of fraud food that operators may have unknowingly encountered in recent years include Parmesan cheese bulked out with cardboard, an array of herbs and spices adulterated to boost their weight and knowingly mislabelled produce

  • Source: Professor Chris Elliott

Labelling, for example, non-organic produce as organic added to its value and would be almost impossible to spot.

A supplier would knowingly mislabel something if they were under financial pressure, if they thought it would be good for their business and if they believed "it won't affect anybody", explained the professor.

However, it’s not the first time the trade has been warned about the risk of food fraud.

Earlier this month the Institute of Food Safety, Integrity and Protection's (TiFSiP) head of operations Jenny Morris told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser that food-serving pubs needed fraud preventatives in place.

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