A man in England has been jailed for selling a chemical sometimes marketed as a fat burner on the internet.

Jack Finney was sentenced at Chester Crown Court to 28 months in prison.

Products were found containing 2,4- dinitrophenol (DNP) in Northwich during an investigation by the Food Standards Agency’s NFCU, Cheshire Police, UK Border Force, West Midlands Cyber Crime, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

Catherine A. Hermsen, FDA assistant commissioner for criminal investigations, said: “Selling dangerous unapproved drugs, disguised as dietary supplements, can cause serious harm to those who buy and use the drugs and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring to justice those who jeopardize the public’s health.”

DNP linked to more than 50 deaths
DNP is an industrial chemical, so there is no safe dosage and it is not made to be consumed as a diet supplement.

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) National Food Crime Unit (NFCU) investigated the case and submitted a file to the Crown Prosecution Service.

As part of Operation Atlas, Finney was charged with eight offences including some under the Food Safety Act 1990 relating to the sale of DNP. Guilty pleas were entered for all offences.

He had been selling the substance to people in Europe and the United States on the dark web between June 2017 and July 2020. DNP is often marketed as a slimming or weight loss aid and has resulted in 33 deaths across the UK since 2007.

Reginald Bevan, deputy head of the NFCU, said the sentence sends a strong message to anyone selling the substance.

“This operation continues to demonstrate how seriously the NFCU takes the illegal sale of DNP for human consumption in the UK and through our close working partnership with local authorities and other law enforcement agencies in the UK and abroad that we are able to tackle offenders, close websites and work to disrupt possible supply routes within and into the UK,” Bevan said.

The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) also recently warned again about the presence of DNP on the Dutch market. DNP is also known as Dinosan, Dnoc, Solfo Black, Nitrophen, Aldifen, and Chemox. More than 20 people have died across Europe linked to its use.

Following a report from British authorities, NVWA investigators launched a criminal investigation into a possible Dutch supplier of slimming products containing DNP. The items are not sold via regular web shops but on social media or the dark web.

Other food crime work
At a recent FSA board meeting, an annual update was given on the NFCU ahead of an external review in 2022. Food crime is estimated to cost UK businesses £11.6 billion ($15.6 billion) each year.

Examples of work are Operation Bantam, which concerns diversion of poultry animal by-products (ABP) unfit for consumption back into food production. It includes several businesses of varying scale in England and Wales. One company has had its approval to handle ABP suspended but this is pending appeal. Two local authority trading standards teams have compiled prosecution case files.

Operation Boston involved the diversion of Category 3 ABP into the human food chain. The investigation also revealed supply of substandard and mis-described red meat to Ghana, via a Canadian broker.

The Crown Prosecution Service decided it was not in the public interest to pursue fraud offences. The local authority prosecuted the managing director for two offences under the Food Safety Act. In October, two early guilty pleas were entered with the sentence being two formal cautions and £3,000 ($4,000) costs. The business had surrendered its license and ceased trading ahead of the hearing.

Operation Hawk is looking at large-scale misrepresentation of country of origin on packed meat products.

The unit has come across the involvement of food businesses in drug supply and imports as well as criminal behavior by companies when dealing with FSA officials.

However, no action was taken in Operation Orchid, the NFCU-led criminal investigation into suspected fraud by Russell Hume. The decision was due to a technical legal error that the NFCU made in 2018.

While conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic have increased food fraud vulnerability, there has not been evidence to substantiate reports of increases in incidents. Reporting of fraud intelligence by local authorities decreased through 2020 but have started to increase again.

NFCU works with the Food Industry Intelligence Network (FIIN), is a member of the Global Alliance on Food Crime with Food Standards Scotland (FSS), and co-chairs the Heads of European Food Safety Agencies working group on food fraud with Germany and Scotland. The unit is still seeking Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) powers.

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