About Hygiene, Ireland

Food Fraud - Whiskey Seized from Crime Gangs


Organised gangs are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their use of technology to perpetrate widespread food fraud, according to experts.

A rise in criminal targeting of the food and drink sector is being blamed on the huge mark-ups that can be made by passing off inferior products as premium goods, coupled with the fact that there is little oversight and lenient penalties for those caught.

Concerns about the role organised crime is playing in the endemic diluting of virgin olive oil. Olive oil is recognised by the EU committee on the environment, public health and food safety as the product most at risk of fraud by gangs, in particular Italian crime syndicates. Other foods attracting the interest of organised crime, according to the committee, include fish, milk, honey and rare spices such as saffron.

The committee has warned that it "is concerned about signals indicating that the number of cases is rising and that food fraud is a growing trend reflecting a structural weakness within the food chain." In a draft report, it claims that "recent food fraud cases have exposed different types of food fraud, such as replacing key ingredients with cheaper alternatives, wrongly labelling the animal species used in a meat product, incorrectly labelling weight, selling ordinary foods as organic, unfairly using origin or animal welfare quality logos, labelling aquaculture fish as wild, counterfeiting and marketing food past its use-by date."

Stuart Shotton, a former trading standards officer said "A lot of Chinese infants ended up seriously ill and died," and "When you look at the science behind it, someone was clever enough to work out that the way they test to ensure milk is the right quality is through the protein content. Then they figured out that the way protein is measured is by looking at the amount of nitrogen produced, and then figured out that melamine is an excellent source of nitrogen. This is not happening by chance. Someone's actually thought about it."

There is a recent global crackdown on organised criminal gangs perpetrating food fraud, Operation Opson III, had uncovered tens of thousands of fake chocolate bars: "This shows that they are moving beyond just substitution – changing one element of a food. It's making something look like something else altogether."

New threats posed by criminal gangs meant regulators needed to change their game have they have to think like the criminals - looking for opportunities to make maximum money.

Failure to act could have serious health consequences.

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