A UNIVERSITY of Portsmouth professor is leading research into food safety following the horsemeat scandal last year.
Professor Lisa Jack is head of the Food Fraud Group at the university and gave evidence to Professor Chris Elliott’s review of food safety.
Prof Jack worked alongside Jim Gee, director of Counter Fraud Services for BDO. He is a member of the university’s centre for counter fraud studies group, and was the first to begin extensive research into the cost of fraud to the food industry.
They have already established that supply chains between producers, suppliers and shops give fraudsters an opportunity to mis-label food, and substitute expensive for cheap ingredients.
Prof Jack is calling for forensic audit and counter-fraud techniques to help restore the quality of food and consumers’ trust.
She said: ‘The food industry is just waking up to the reality of fraud, as other sectors have done over recent years.
‘Long, complex supply chains, sometimes with few checks in place, mean that there are potentially lucrative opportunities for fraudsters.
‘Fraud isn’t necessarily taking place at the end of the grower or supplier or even by the seller.
‘But there are many places along the way for a product to be tampered with, whether it is substituting cheaper ingredients, mislabelling or even changing the use-by date.’
Prof Jack’s research on food supply chains finds that allegiances and arrangements between suppliers, intermediaries and customers change frequently.
Contracts are used less often, with verbal communication preferred.
She added: ‘It’s the old saying, if it looks too good to be true then it probably is.’
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated in 2012 the food industry was worth £188bn.
Mr Gee said: ‘Food fraud is the crime in our baskets.
‘It undermines the financial health and stability of producers, suppliers and retailers and denies consumers the quality of food which they pay for.
‘Research shows that most fraud is high-volume, low-value but its cumulative impact is very significant.
‘It is best to pre-empt such fraud by being properly protected against it rather than hoping it won’t happen and having to react when it does.
‘Over the coming months, working with university, I’ll be leading the most in-depth research yet undertaken into the financial cost of fraud in the food industry and the extent to which it is properly protected against fraud.’