Has the incidence of food fraud increased during the pandemic?

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At the start of February 2021, Government published a report looking at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the number of reported food fraud incidents. With the effects of the pandemic being felt across the world, it is reasonable to expect that the vulnerability of the global food supply chain to food fraud may be impacted.

The report by the Food Authenticity Network in collaboration with Mérieux Nutrisciences has   identified a small increase in official food fraud alerts since the onset of the pandemic (19 more official reports) and a more significant increase in the number of media reports (81 more media reports) in January to June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019).

The Food Authenticity Network, in consultation with its members, concluded that the conditions created by the pandemic have increased food fraud vulnerability but that there was insufficient evidence of ‘dramatic’ increases in specific COVID-19-related food fraud incidents. This study supports that conclusion.

However, getting a true measure of food fraud is always difficult and probably more so during these times of upheaval. Lloyd’s Register warned recently that vigilance against food fraud, for example through carrying out inspections and sampling, is “critically low” worldwide.

Late last year, Interpol and Europol’s joint “Operation Opson” seized more than £29 million worth of potentially dangerous fake food and drink including 3.6 tonnes of unsafe dairy products and 88 tonnes of olive oil, in the process disrupting 19 organised crime groups. When supply chains are disrupted, as they are at the moment, many food business operators are forced to look for new suppliers and this can open the door to unscrupulous traders.

WM comment

It is likely that the true impact of COVID-19 on the incidence of global food fraud will not be known until full resumption of regulatory surveillance world-wide and at this point we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg.