More than 1,000 reports of food crime were made to the National Food Crime Unit last year, according to the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS).

A CIPS freedom of information request found 1,193 reports to the National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) of the Food Standards Agency (FSA). CIPS is a not for profit organization for procurement and supply professionals.

Almost 7,000 reports were recorded in the Food Crime Intelligence database between Jan. 1, 2013 and March 31, 2019. There were 364 notices of food crime in the first three months of 2019.

NFCU was set up in 2015 and covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Examples of food crime include the use of stolen food in the supply chain, unlawful slaughter, diversion of unsafe food, adulteration, substitution or misrepresentation, and document fraud.

Around the time of the horsemeat scandal in 2013, there were 1,517 reports. This declined to 895 and 796 in the next two years but climbed to 1,035 in 2016 and 1,116 in 2017.

Question where food comes from
Malcolm Harrison, a group CEO at CIPS, said modern food supply chains are long, complicated and frequently change.

“Spotting risks in our food supply chains before they become problems requires constant vigilance, especially in times of change. Questioning, knowing and not blindly accepting where food products come from is key.

Businesses must ensure that supply chains are transparent and that goods can be tracked from their source. It is important to visit suppliers and introduce regular quality and compliance checks to ensure sound international supply chain practices.”

Food crime can vary from deliberate product mislabelling to a fraudulent substitution of an ingredient for a cheaper, potentially unsafe alternative.

The most common food crime recorded in the database since 2016, is the ‘knowing sale of food substances not suitable for human consumption’, which could have consequences for public health.

In 2018 there were 310 reported cases, a jump from the previous year when only 73 were recorded. Nearly a third of the food crime reports made this year fall under this classification.

NFCU did not provide the outcome of reported cases to CIPS and did not have information on the number of food crime prosecutions.

Harrison said the figures show potentially harmful substances are finding their way into the food supply chains and potentially onto store shelves.

“It is surprising, therefore, that while the number of reports of food crime continues to rise, prosecutions remain stubbornly low. Food fraudsters put lives at risk in order to bolster their profits, it is time for criminal prosecutions to rise.”

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