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!