Fraud, Security & Provenance in the Food & Drink Industry

Round Table hosted by MacRoberts LLP and Livingston James, with Professor Chris Elliott

For those who have had the pleasure of hearing Professor Chris Elliott speak, you will know that you never leave disappointed. Once again, Chris gave a fascinating overview of and insight into some of the global and domestic challenges facing the food and drink industry, addressing food integrity (security), fraud, sustainability and authenticity.

Some very pertinent examples were given:

  • 2 of the 5 major UK grocers are developing internal teams to directly manage these issues;
  • the World Food Programme (which feeds 80 million people a year) have had major issues with regard to the integrity of its supply chain;
  • and, possibly most alarmingly, there is more money being made in global food fraud than illegal drugs.

While we may not see any Hollywood blockbusters around the clampdown on soya or cocoa bean production, deforestation, chemical additives in food or the use of bonded or child labour, there is a rapidly organised crime involvement in food fraud, recognising and taking advantage of the value in controlling elements of the food supply chain including fake and potentially dangerous foodstuffs from salt to salmon. Not everybody takes drugs, but everybody needs to eat.

Some of the key issues that Chris highlighted were:

  • the current Covid-19 pandemic which has created chaos in the global supply chain;
  • Brexit, which remains very uncertain but we can see the signs of major challenges in speed of delivery, transport blockages and a European antipathy to supporting the UK; and
  • climate change – the omni-present, often overlooked, driver of catastrophic weather events which can ruin harvests.

The direct consequences of these are numerous. One example is that Covid-19 has driven a spike in demand for the spice, Turmeric, promoted (rightly or wrongly) as providing a great boost of your natural defences. Yet 78% of global production comes from India where there are complex supply chains and less stringent controls over production and labour. Are we always confident of its provenance? Increased demand increases the likelihood of “fake” Turmeric. With Brexit, there are already storage problems at UK ports and we have not yet formally left the EU which may cause food deterioration issues due to lengthy or improper storage. And there are many examples of crop failure and disease across the globe that are directly attributed to changing weather patterns.

But all is not doom and gloom. The UK, and the developed world generally, is leading the way in ensuring that the issue of food integrity is being discussed at the top table on a regular basis. Global corporations are taking their role very seriously in addressing how they source key products and investigating and managing issues further back in the supply chain. Encouraging deforestation, supporting child labour and damaging environmental impacts are not good for your corporate image and these are increasingly easy to trace.

Science and technology are working hand in hand to help improve the assessment of current practices, create new methods of measuring success – traceable biomolecules into fish feed (that remain in fish raw and cooked) – and utilise predictive analytics to avoid repeat disasters. Digitisation in the supply chain – blockchain being an excellent example – helps provide traceability and security. The world of data analytics using AI and machine learning to create complex algorithms has arrived and should be a great asset in alleviating supply chain fraud and improve future planning.

Follow-up discussion

There were some very positive messages from our attendees discussing their use of blockchain, food fingerprinting, risk analysis in the supply chain and increased traceability, all tempered with the reality that for low value, high volume products, too much expensive measurement can add costs that make the product unviable. There needs to be an accessible, reliable and affordable option. All of those involved were united in their support of fraud protection, traceability, food integrity and sustainability, which combined with the work being done by academic institutions like Queens University and industry bodies like the Institute for Global Food Security, suggests that there will be a continued improvement in ensuring food and drink safety and authenticity.

A really fascinating and eye-opening discussion with everybody leaving a little more aware and informed than they had been. Any discussion that keeps this topic at the top of the agenda is adding value. Looking forward to the next one.

For further information, please contact Euan Duncan, Head of Food & Drink at MacRoberts

  • Professor Chris Elliott, Queens University
  • Paul Swarbrigg, 2 Sisters Food Group
  • Alex Bruce, Adelphi Whisky
  • Victor West, Associated Seafoods
  • Paul Parkins, Borders Biscuits
  • Christian Nissen, Highland Game
  • Amy Ferguson, Livingston James
  • Ben Walker, Livingston James
  • Euan Duncan, MacRoberts LLP
  • James Macsween, Macsween of Edinburgh
  • Gemma Rae, Podberry / Bruce Farms
  • Su Cox, The Scottish Salmon Company

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