Food crime unit takes a bite out of fraudulent food in the UK

The new food unit in Britain will work to prevent tainted meat.

The new food unit in Britain will work to prevent tainted meat.  (iStock)

From beef to contaminated with horse meat to spirits laced with chemicals, tainted food can cause many problems for the unsuspecting consumer.

In the wake of recent product scandals, Britain is launching a specialized Food Crime Unit (FCU) to take down petty food crime big and small, reports BBC News. Recommendations for the new unit were largely taken from a report by Chris Elliott, a Queen's University Belfast professor.

According the BBC, the report recommended that the team duties should include:

“-Better intelligence gathering and sharing of information to make it difficult for criminals to operate;

-New, unannounced audit checks by the food industry to protect businesses and their customers;

-The development of a whistleblowing system that would better facilitate the reporting of food crime;

-Improved laboratory testing capacity, with a standardized approach for the testing of a food's authenticity; and

-The encouragement of a culture within the food industry that questions the source of its supply chain.”

The FCU will work as a specialist team within the country’s Food Standards Agency (a rough equivalent to the FDA in the U.S.).  

Officials noted that the need for the unit comes as international gangs are entering into the sale of fraudulent foods.

"This has changed the scope of investigations. Criminals have realized that they can make the same amount of money by dealing with counterfeit food. Invariably the sentences are much lighter,” Michael Ellis, assistant director of Interpol, told BBC.

"In my experience, the patterns used by criminals involved in counterfeiting are very similar to those used in the dealing of drugs. They operate front companies, they employ front bank accounts, they will have false declarations for the movement of their goods, they will mis-declare their shipments."

Examples of food crime over the past few years across Europe include:

-Milk from China tainted with a chemical melamine killed six babies in 2008

-In 2012, 40 people died after consuming vodka and rum that had been tainted with methanol

-Last year horse meat was found in ground beef destined for supermarket shelves across Europe including the U.K., France, Ireland and Sweden.

"Counterfeiting impacts on everyone. The criminals have no care at all for the hygiene or bacterial content in the end product. They just want the brand name in order to get their money,” Ellis told BBC News.