Falling ‘Fowl’ of the law – ‘Food Crime’ and how yes, that does actually exist!

20th January 2020 Business Crime

In the 21st Century we seem to live our lives around food and what we eat. We are told that the reason young people can’t afford mortgage deposits any more is because the funds are being squandered on avocados. We eat more than we should. We no longer just visit restaurants on a special occasion, and come payday week most of us are out on the town spending our hard earned cash on food and drink purchased from independent bars restaurants and cafes - and our local takeaway on the way home.

With the increased focus on food and what we eat, comes new trends in eating. A decade ago you wouldn’t have found many vegan restaurants popping up and ready for custom. You certainly wouldn’t have found many of them full. For some, it has become fashionable to be discerning. For others, the focus on the path our food has taken to reach our plates has too long been ignored. We care more now about social responsibility and what we eat - whether our eggs are free range, or our produce organic. Animal welfare concerns are increasingly at the forefront of the nation’s mind, and whilst some of us don’t have the willpower to become vegan or vegetarian, its fair to say that most of us care about how our food was looked after before its demise and how it was killed. What hormones was the animal pumped with, and was it grass fed? Was the killing humane and did it limit suffering?

The standards that we expect of our food our higher than ever, and with that increased public demand for quality comes higher scrutiny from the regulators of the food industry. If someone asked you to picture a ‘criminal’, the last thing you might imagine is a farmer, restaurant owner or chef. But did you know that there are many ways for those in the food industry to fall foul of the law? Food Law, to be precise.

The Food Standard Agency has a dedicated unit for the prevention and detection of Food Crime. They identify seven techniques as the main methods through which food crime can be committed, some more obviously ‘criminal’ in nature than others. Those 7 techniques are as follows:

  1. Theft - dishonestly appropriating food, drink or feed products in order to profit from their use or sale
  2. Unlawful processing - slaughtering or preparing meat and related products in unapproved premises or using unauthorised techniques
  3. Waste diversion - unlawfully diverting food, drink or feed meant for disposal, back into the supply chain
  4. Adulteration - reducing the quality of food by including a foreign substance, in order to lower costs or fake a higher quality
  5. Substitution - replacing a food or ingredient with another substance that is similar but inferior
  6. Misrepresentation - marketing or labelling a product to wrongly portray its quality, safety, origin or freshness
  7. Document fraud - includes the making, use and possession of false documents with the intent to sell, market or otherwise vouch for a fraudulent or substandard product

As ever, prevention is better than cure. The publication of any investigation can be enough to devastate a business, and as such it is important that proper compliance with the law is achieved and maintained.

If you have any concerns regarding your business’ practices and procedures, or if you or your business face prosecution or investigation in respect of any issue relating to the above, then please do not hesitate to get in contact with Catherine Gaynor in our Business Crime and Regulation Department who will be happy to assist you.

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Catherine Gaynor is an Associate located in Manchester in our Business Crime & Regulation department

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