We’re pleased with the response we’ve had to the food crime event held on 3 December 2014…
These are notes and quotes paraphrased from the round table discussion at the Food Crime and Integrity Event Wednesday 3rd December 2014.
Comment: It’s really pleasing that the Elliott report was produced – and that the FSA are developing the food crime unit , because with the cuts coming in force and the problems increasing in all local authorities across the area – were going to need some support, hopefully they’ll be able to…
Question: Maybe there should be some regional units as well as a a central unit to support this work…..Would it be feasible to look at partnerships with research laboratories in universities maybe?
Response: The issue with this though is the BIG companies have the best defense lawyers, and universities just can not operate in a robust enough environment to stand up to their scrutiny.
Comment: The problem with having a centralized testing unit is “Where do you come in the queue for testing?” How many people are before you, what is your relationship with the place doing the testing etc etc.
Discussion: Public Health England are looking at the load on public analysis nationally.
There are only 6 remaining public analysts in the UK. There needs to be some funding for this work because for there to be a prosecution there has to be a public analyst involved. So if they all left, and there were none left what would that mean for food integrity in the UK?
These are notes paraphrased from Nick Lowe’s presentation at the Food Crime and Integrity Event Wednesday 3rd December 2014.
I though I’d start with a mention of this – as we talked about the horse meat scandal – I want to give you some local perspective ad how that effects the local authority – and how complex this whole business is.
The horse meat scandal was a really clever crime. Horse meat does not look like beef – hence why it only appeared in processed meats on the shelves – and not in butchers shops as blocks of meat.
We have a problem with a burger manufacturer in Birmingham. They were a victim of the horse meat scandal, but as we were investigating that we found out that they were committing other types of fraud.
They bought their meat from a broker, and the broker got that meat on the open market, and it contained a significant amount of horse…. so we started testing and we detected that he was adding mechanically recovered chicken to his burgers and received a fine of £90,000 for that.
We have dedicated officers dealing with food in the city. 15 full time equivalent people working on all aspects of the food industry in Birmingham.
I was once co-opted on an “Illegal Meat Task Force” with the FSA (that unit is now the Food Fraud Unit). The crime I was investigated was with waste poultry – waste poultry that was destined for use in animal feed, That was cleaned, bleached and making it’s way back into the food chain.
Huge quantities of food that was not fit for human consumption was going to food suppliers – that was originating from a factory that was being paid to dispose of this waste.
This was over 10 years ago, so food crime is nothing new, but there are millions of pounds that can be made so it doesn’t go away.
So us in the local authority are on the front line, and it is a very complex issue, which takes up a lot of resources – and will become more difficult as the cuts take effect.
Why is Birmingham Vulnerable?
- Populations density,
- Areas of deprivation
- Target markets
Simply put: There are lots of people to sell to, There are areas of deprivation and so people want or need to buy cheap. And then the target markets, we have a lot of suppliers and a lot of niche markets so lots of competition, all looking to save money and increase profits so are willing to buy cheap.
What types of food crime are there in Birmingham?
Adulteration, Meat speciation, Fish species, Rice, Other Products with special qualities….
Adulteration, Meat speciation, and fish speak for itself. But rice? Basmati rice is a big problem at certain times when the yields are low. Maybe 10% of the rice can be substituted for a cheaper quality product but the price stays the same.
Other problems can be around Fraudulent claims – say for instance Halal – how do you tell if your chicken is or isn’t Halal? – How do you know it’s not?
Then there are issues around Accreditation, Health Claims. people claiming things are “Natural, Traditional or Homemade”.
The big thing at the moment is around allergens….Allergens can cause big problems around health!
There was a shop in Aston that was caught using up to 50% peanuts in its Almond powder – which could have caused a serious reaction in someone with an allergy.
An example of work in Birmingham
One prosecution we made was around the big problem of unfit and rejected meat, like as highlighted above, waste products making its way into the food chain.
There was a butchers shop on the Warwick Road that was supposed to have been closed down that we found that was still having large quantities of chicken delivered at the rear of a shop and being left in a yard, open to the conditions in all weathers in filthy greasy containers.
It was then being taken into the building to be prepared to make it “look” like it was fit for human consumption. The conditions in the building were really poor, There was one sink in the whole of building for hand washing.
We raided to shut them down and they were jailed.
It turned out that it was a business in Preston that was supplying the waste meat and then putting it back into the food chain, we found out who they were supplying to we raided there too and took away all the chicken, but it didn’t end there – while doing that we found other meat from questionable sources which we took away too.
As is often the case with these things, one crime often leads to another.
These are notes paraphrased from Prof Chris Elliott’s presentation at the Food Crime and Integrity Event Wednesday 3rd December 2014.
Over in the last few months since the report I have gone in directions I didn’t anticipate and spoken to many people about the report….
To start though, what triggered my review was the horse meat Scandal it shocked a lot of people!
But not me, my background is in criminal activity in the food chain, mainly agricultural, the biggest shock to most was that it wasn’t just the corner shops, but the BIG suppliers who got caught up in it.
26/27 member states all reported horse meat in their beef supply system and nobody knew it was going on.
The common denominator in what was going on was complex supply chains and a “race to the bottom” people who wanted the cheapest supplier. I ma now aware of at least 3 criminal networks operating across Europe – and they were incredibly well organised.
You’d never heard of food crime before , because I coined the phrase, the reason I did was because food fraud sounded trivial.
I wanted to make people feel uncomfortable to acknowledge the scale of the problem. Lots of people we’re joking about “Horse Gate” but really we were lucky – Lucky because in the UK it was our first exposure to food fraud but it’s only by luck it wasn’t something that was in the food chain that could back us seriously ill – or kill us.
The scandal had a huge impact on the way we bought food in the UK, Tesco were particularly badly hit as the market split, the people that could afford moved up the food market, and those that couldn’t moved down as the general thought was I may as well shop at Lidl, Aldi etc as the quality isn’t any worse.
Sainsburys and Marks and Spencers are the only 2 supermarkets not to be caught up in the scandal. Why? Sainsburys was the ONLY shop to be DNA testing their meat and M&S because they just do not by processed meat.
But all retailers have now rethought how they procure their food stuffs – and that’s a huge undertaking.
So since the release of the report I’ve been looking at how to sport people doing this.
Where are we at in the UK now?
A network of trade association have been established to share information , and they talk about fraud and they talk about crime, the FDF (Food and Drink Federation) are taking the lead and they share knowledge.
There as also been a “testing club” set up, where multiple retailers have set up a fund to look at testing the food in our food chain – which shows that the supermarkets aren’t in it for a competitive advantage – they are trying to ensure fraud isn’t happening.
Tesco as the biggest effected supermarket and pledged to be more transparent and more testing of their food – and they have published their entire testing program onto their website, even where they found problems.
So that’s the big retailers, but back to Birmingham, and our meeting about how a city deals with this things.
Since my interim report was released, after my meeting here, one company (who can’t be named) visited me in Belfast and told me “we know our competitors are cheating, we know how they are doing it but we can’t prove it” and they were losing contracts by big margins – they are now going through the motions to prove scientifically what the issue is, so they can address the issues with their customers.
What are the indicators for fraud? Where should we start to look for it?
There are economic indicators that can be seen if you look for them. An increase for supply and demand. Take Pomegranates for instance. There has been a massive increase in the consumption of pomegranate juice in the last 4 years, but it takes 5 years to cultivate a pomegranate – so where does the extra juice come from?
The you can look for environmental factors, when say the Italian olive crop fails by 25% what does that do to the supply? Does it drop? If not, where are the olives coming from?
Next week for the first time since the report the Government are having a cross parliamentary meeting about food crime, involving so many people that people right across government are talking about food!
At the end of November last year I met Chris for the first time and heard the expression Food crime instead of Food Fraud – and I committed to helping him give an overview of what a city could do in the face of food fraud.
I went on to arrange a workshop at the via ground which was attended by people from the food industry across Birmingham.
As a result of that various offers came from across the city, from th council and the university specifically around the “Food Crime Intelligence Network“.
And now were here tonight to look at what is happening and the schedule tonight is:
- Professor Chris Elliott giving a brief update on the national picture as a result of the Elliot Report
- Nick Lowe, from Birmingham Environmental Health, giving an update on what’s happening locally
- Break (Supper)
- Discussion amongst us all about what we can do next locally, and how that will contribute to tackling food crime nationally and beyond.