Ian Thomas Associates

Combatting fraudulent practices in the agri-food chain

Food fraud not only leads to economic loss, which could affect the financial viability of a food business, but can cause significant public health risks.

An activity amounts to food fraud when four criteria are met; a violation of rules, deception of consumers, economic gain and the violation is done intentionally (e.g. the deliberate substitution of a high quality or higher price ingredient with a low quality or cheaper ingredient).

Article 9 (2) of Regulation 2017/625 states that competent authorities shall perform official controls to identify possible intentional violations of specified rules concerning, for example, food and food safety and the protection of consumer interests and information perpetuated through fraudulent or deceptive practices.

In March 2023, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission published a Technical Report Implementation of article 9 (2). The purpose of the Report is to promote the uniform interpretation and application of that article.

Competent authorities must identify possible weaknesses and vulnerabilities of control systems and control areas, just as the fraudsters do; ‘to catch a criminal, you have to think like one.’

The same principle applies to food businesses seeking to prevent economically motivated food fraud which may be based on a VACCP (Vulnerability Assessment Critical Control Point) system.

The JRC report notes that vulnerability to fraud comprises three elements:

Motivation – an act done purely for financial gain or one induced by financial pressures

Opportunity – the circumstances that allow a fraudster to commit fraud (weak fraud identification and prevention procedures; complexities in the sector or food supply chain)

Countermeasures – what fraud prevention measures have been put in place by the food business and what are the competent authorities’ control arrangements

The Report uses several examples to show competent authorities and food businesses how, when and why fraudulent activity might occur and what effective countermeasures can be put in place.

The categories of fraud referred to in the Report include; adulteration, counterfeiting, forgery, grey market activities and misdescription/mislabelling/misbranding.

Any consideration about food fraud often reverts to the horsemeat scandal of 2013 where unlabelled horsemeat was identified in beef burgers. Although consumer interests were adversely affected, there were no significant food safety concerns.

The same might be said of the 2023 investigation into beef labelled as ‘British’ but which was sourced from other countries. https://www.food.gov.uk/news-alerts/news/ceo-statement-on-meat-fraud-investigation

The FSAI website reports the convictions at Tuam District Court in 2022 in respect of the sale of counterfeit Smirnoff Red Label vodka. https://www.fsai.ie/news_centre/press_releases/tuam_district_court_27042022.html

Some fraudulent activity such as adulterating alcohol with methanol can result in serious illness and even death. For example, in 2017, at least 12 people died in Northern India after consuming illegally-produced alcohol.

The JRC Report can be found at: https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC131525

This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute the provision of legal advice. If you require further information about this topic, please contact us.


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