Foodex 2016

‘We could be consuming food all the time that is not authentic but we wouldn’t know about it until afterwards’

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

Panelists (l to r); Hines, Jack, Morling & Stones
Panelists (l to r); Hines, Jack, Morling & Stones

Related tags Food fraud Supply chain management Management Fraud

‘We could be consuming food all the time that is not authentic but we wouldn’t know about it until afterwards’, according to Andy Morling, head, Food Crime Unit, Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Morling made the comments during a panel discussion alongside Prof Tony Hines, director, Global Regulatory Services and Crisis Management, Leatherhead Food Research and Prof Lisa Jack, accounting, University of Portsmouth Centre for Counter Fraud Studies. 

‘Protecting your supply chains’

The session called ‘Food & Drink Fraud: ‘Protecting your supply chains’, was chaired by Michael Stones, group editor, Food Manufacture, and organized by William Reed at Foodex, The NEC, Birmingham (April 18-20). 

Stones introduced the panel by asking them why have so few people been prosecuted for food fraud in what is a multimillion pound industry and why are manufacturers reluctant to share details of fraudulent crime. 

Morling said despite the UK having one of the best fraud units in the world his job was to bring leadership in the fight against serious fraud in the food industry and ‘food crime’ to him was ‘any form of dishonesty that impacts safety or the inauthenticity of food and deliberate attacks on the food system’. 

Within any industry there is an element of dishonesty at play but we look at the impact of that, how it affects our health, religious, or ethical beliefs, and our wallet, where we pay over the odds for sub standard food​,” he said. 

Food crime denies us the fundamental right to decide what we put into our bodies​.” 

Jack looks at the issue from a systems, account management problem. She also observed food fraud doesn’t exist on its own but in conjunction with smuggling, extortion, false accounting, tax evasion, ‘at its worst terrorist funding’.  

Consumer trust

According to Hines, manufacturers are putting more effort into maintaining consumer trust by looking at new technologies. 

If it’s not on the ingredients list it shouldn’t be in the product​,” he said. 

Morling said the way we eat and the things we eat demand more from the food industry than ever before. 

Things such as exotic products, involves complex supply chains from around the world. 

We use ingredients from all over the world and that in itself comes with its own risks,​” he added.

There is science testing but it is ‘not a silver bullet’. We need to gather human intelligence from whistle blowers and try to detect things before they hit the shelves​.” 

Hines believes the buzzwords are supply chain vulnerability, and safeguarding the integrity of our supply chain. He said the ‘magic T word’ is traceability, which makes supply chain management easier because it looks at the authenticity of a product, proper vulnerability assessments and country of origin. 

Means, motive & opportunity

For any F&B crime to happen you need to have the means, motive and opportunity,​” added Morling. 

"Organized criminal gangs can aquire the means to get a foothold within the industry, motivation can be greed, and if there is a lack of internal controls and surveillance there is an opportunity. Each country has its own vulnerabilities​.” 

The challenge according to Jack, is persuading companies to invest in the  resilience against fraud or counter fraud measures, which she said is ‘a difficult sell’. 

Hines saidas an industry we have learnt how to ask the awkward questions, cross-examine and ensure the answer satisfies us. 

We are asking more deep and meaningful questions, but how can you reassure firms we are not exposing them and their brand and that we are not open to a level of risk,​” he added. 

We have seen opportunistic issues over many years for example, vodka and wine. After Horsegate in 2013, I travelled across Europe auditing many de-boning plants ensuring only beef was only handled on these facilities​.

“Two years prior to the scandal one of the people I met said he had been offered 200-300 horses a year for slaughter but he refused to take them. He knew what he was being offered but he didn’t take them​. 

Processed meat

He didn’t pass on the information to intelligence at the time, but it could have pointed to an organized gang that could have been infiltrated​.” 

Morling said there are manycomplexities of the supply chain that potentially have an impact on a food product, such as processed products. 

We can hide a multitude of sins in a finished product, there are vulnerabilities. We are still seeing adulteration of processed meat. The simplest forms of crime are still here in relation to food​,” he added. 

Hines said the biggest case of fraud he ever saw in Israel was camel meat being substituted for lamb. 

It was the first time I ever came across camel meat being used as a lamb substitute but it shows food fraud is a global problem. The robustness of our UK retail system is keeping this out of the UK but other people in the world are hungry and don’t necessarily question what they are eating​,” he said. 

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