Criminals, con-men, fraudsters… whatever we might like to call them, it’s a fair bet that many people who are responsible for food fraud don’t see themselves as ‘proper’ criminals. And it’s timely to remember that, although we often talk about food fraud using abstract concepts like ‘supply chain’, and ‘grey market’, the real story behind food fraud is men and women conducting illegal activities.
So who are the people responsible for food fraud? Although research specific to food-related fraud is scarce, within the broader world of ‘white collar crime’, fraud is overwhelming thought to be committed by men rather than women. People involved in food fraud can be classified into two types;
- Opportunistic fraudsters; and,
- Organised fraudsters.
Opportunistic criminals are those who are ‘in the right place at the right time’. They are most likely to be an employee or owner of a business within the food supply chain who has identified an opportunity to make a profit. Unfortunately, it appears that within this group there are many who feel compelled to commit fraud after finding their business in difficult circumstances. Commonly, the fraud will be committed to meet supply contracts or expectations of customers or to prevent bankruptcy.
Organised food fraud criminals have different motivations and often work in groups that actively seek out opportunities to make money without regard for laws and regulations. Often, these criminals will operate within other industries in addition to the food industry. Their frauds tend to be larger, more complicated and continue for longer periods of time than opportunistic frauds. The people behind these crimes are less likely to be legitimate employees of the food industry, but will know people inside the industry whom they use to gain access to the supply chain. Compared to opportunistic fraudsters, the activities of organised criminals tend to involve more people and the fraud is more likely to have a broader affect along and across supply chains. Combined with the fact that organised criminals are very likely to repeat their crimes if they prove to be profitable this means the frauds perpetrated by organised criminals can have a very large impact.
|Food industry connections||More likely to be employed within industry||Contacts and links to industry|
|Motivations||One-off financial gains or motivated by the need to prevent business financial failure or meet sales/supply contracts||Motivated by direct financial gain to support other criminal activities|
|Knowledge of food processes||Detailed knowledge of some processes||Both detailed and limited knowledge of various processes|
|Knowledge of detection likelihood||Often limited knowledge about the likelihood of detection||Often limited knowledge about the likelihood of detection|
|Knowledge of successful strategies||Usually well informed about the likelihood of success||Usually well informed about the likelihood of success|
|Repeat offences||Less likely to repeat||More likely to repeat if successful|
|Impact of activities||Less potential impact than organised fraudsters||Potentially higher impacts due to broader reach and higher likelihood of repeating a fraud|
Food fraud perpetrators from around the globe
Yakub Moosa Yusuf has been described as Britain’s most notorious food fraud criminal and has been jailed twice over fraudulent meat trading, including selling meat that was falsely declared to be halal.
In Asia, a Taiwanese seafood company allegedly found itself with an oversupply of expensive frozen shrimp after sales were affected by a downturn in the number of tourists from China. Rather than discard the shrimp and face financial losses, the owner and his son are alleged to have tampered with the expiry dates and sold the stock, saving their business and reportedly making a tidy sum of US$22m in the process.
North America’s Mucci Farms attracted plenty of negative media attention and a $1.5m fine after a three year investigation by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency found that the business had been misrepresenting the country of origin of produce, including cucumbers and peppers, to meet the demand for locally-grown food. Inspectors first became suspicious when they noticed that the outside of some cardboard cartons appeared to have had stickers peeled off and replaced with stickers that said “Product of Canada” stickers, while stickers on the inside of the cartons “Product of Mexico.” Court documents described one scenario in which Mucci needed to supply Canadian-grown mini-cucumbers but could not find local sources.
In Europe, this French olive supplier sold cheaper Spanish olives to local olive oil producers, misrepresenting their provenance, after having problems sourcing local olives due to harvests being affected by the olive fruit fly pest.
And finally, a cab driver from Chester, in England endangered the lives of his customers by selling fake vodka containing toxic chemicals. He was found with illegal tobacco and alcohol worth £1,700.