Beating the fraudsters

In the fight against food fraud, greater intelligence sharing amongst food agencies will be key to ensuring standards are met and rule-breakers brought to justice.

Picture the scene. It is London in 1820. Bakers are mixing dough with chalk and plaster to make loaves whiter and heavier. Brewers are using strychnine to make beer taste bitter. Confectioners are using poisonous lead and mercury salts to make sweets brightly coloured and more attractive to children. It’s a great time to be an enterprising food producer with questionable scruples, but probably not such a pleasurable period for the poor consumers subjected to hazardous substances on a daily basis.


Fast-forward two centuries and things have, thankfully, changed for the better. Standards have done much to improve the quality of the food we eat, ensuring there are no nasty surprises hidden away in the ingredients cupboard; and swift prosecution of transgressions has led to increased confidence in the safety (and legitimacy) of the food chain. Organisations such as the Food Standards Agency in the UK and the European Food Safety Authority have worked tirelessly in this regard.

Nevertheless, food fraud does still exist – recent high-profile cases include vodka being diluted with industrial methylated spirits and problems with the supply of rotten poultry to certain supermarkets – and stopping such illegal practices is critical to minimising public health risks…