As food supply chains have become increasingly global and complex, new and challenging risks have emerged. One of the risks gaining attention from industry, governments, regulatory bodies and consumer organisations is food fraud conducted for economic gain.
The Food Standards Agency says that Food fraud is committed 'when food is deliberately placed on the market, for financial gain, with the intention of deceiving the consumer'. Although there are many kinds of food fraud the two main types are: (1) the sale of food which is unfit for consumption and (2) the deliberate misdescription of food. Both types may directly threaten human health.
For example, a cancer causing toxin (called melamine) was added to milk and infant formula in China to increase its protein content. Additionally, swapping one fish species with another could expose consumers to different allergens which could make them sick. In many instances, food fraud can reduce consumer trust in the both the food industry and food safety, and negatively impact on sales, as was demonstrated in the UK horsemeat scandal.
There is a growing concern that in some ways food fraud may be more risky than traditional threats to the food supply as the adulterants used in these activities are often unconventional. Melamine for example was not considered a potential contaminant in the food supply before 2007 and hence was not included in routine quality checks. In addition, current food protection systems are not designed to look for the never-ending number of potential adulterants that may show up in the food supply. As criminal activity by design is intended to elude detection, new tools and new approaches to supply chain management are called for.
This proposal suggests combining theories and methods from psychology, political economy, sociology, anthropology, criminology and law, with natural science disciplines.
This project aims to investigate current and future vulnerabilities to fraud and criminality in food supply chains in order to identify fraud opportunities and evaluate countermeasures that are effective and will enhance consumer trust in food and producers. In order to address these issues five research objectives have been developed.