Scotland launches food fraud hotline and warns Brexit could encourage criminals

By David Burrows

- Last updated on GMT

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) chief executive says food crime could increase if food prices rise post Brexit. ©iStock/Jovanmandic
Food Standards Scotland (FSS) chief executive says food crime could increase if food prices rise post Brexit. ©iStock/Jovanmandic

Related tags: Food fraud, Food standards agency

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) has launched a new food fraud hotline to help regulators and police tackle criminal activity in the supply chain, as well as protect the food sector’s reputation abroad. 

The new 24-hour, seven-day-a-week phone line will allow consumers and industry to anonymously report any suspicions. 

In England, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) launched its own initiative in June, called Food Crime Confidential. 

The new reporting schemes follow recommendations put forward in the aftermath of the 2013 horsemeat scandal. 

Invaluable intelligence 

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) chief executive Geoff Ogle said the information would be ”invaluable”. 

“We’re at the stage now where we can be much more directed by the intelligence we receive,”​ he added. “The difficulty will be getting the intelligence.”​ 

Scottish food manufacturers, retailers and producers all back the initiative. FSS reassured those in industry that all calls are “100% anonymous”,​ while an adjoining online service is also non-traceable. 

“People in the [food and drink] industry may be more reluctant to talk to the regulator, which is why we have worked with Crimestoppers [the independent charity running the scheme],”​ Ogle said. 

Brexit fears 

He also attempted to allay fears that Brexit could make tackling and preventing food fraud more difficult. Both FSS and Police Scotland said the channels of communication will remain open across the EU. 

But in an interview with FoodNavigator, Ogle conceded that food fraud could increase if the UK leaves the European Union. 

“If food prices do rise, then there is more motivation to increase criminal activity because there are greater margins of profit to be made,”​ he said. 

The costs of some commodities have already increased as a result of the weaker sterling.

In a survey by FoodNavigator​ after the UK’s referendum vote, three quarters (75%) of businesses agreed or strongly agreed that prices would go up. 

In March, food assurance company NSF International suggested Brexit should not affect criminal activity levels​.

But the group’s director, Jude Mason, also noted at the time that adulteration, substitution and mislabelling crimes will occur so long as the profit incentive is high enough. 

Food fraud – defined as any deliberate manipulation, substitution or mislabelling – costs the UK food and drink sector an estimated £1.17bn (€1.37bn). 

Following the horsemeat scandal, the FSA and FSS both established food crime units. The European Commission, meanwhile, launched the Food Fraud Network.

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