Figures suggest fraud costs the food and drink industry £11bn a year in Britain and evidence shows organised criminal gangs are increasingly taking advantage of complex food chains and cheapening the integrity of reputable farmers.
The Yorkshire Post has revealed over a hundred cases of food fraud between 2011 and 2014 across the county - but the actual figure is likely to be far higher as councils said they had recorded in excess of 200 extra cases in the period but not noted if they were fraudulent or genuine mistakes.
Julian Sturdy, York Outer MP, said: “Tough sanctions should be brought to bear on anyone who would not only jeopardise the health of British consumers, but also cheapen the reputation of our agricultural industry, which farmers have worked so hard to rebuild after the health scares of the 1990s.
“It is vitally important to safeguard our hard-won reputation of excellence, which could easily be jeopardised by rogue elements operating in an increasingly complex international marketplace.”
Last year Interpol and Europol seized a significant haul of illicit food and drink in 33 countries including over 80,000 biscuits and chocolate bars and 131,000 litres of oil and vinegar.
Figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post show a number of cases were investigated by councils including the illegal slaughter of animals, deliberate mislabelling of foods and the sale of bootleg alcohol. In Barnsley cases where beef was sold as lamb have been reported, while in Calderdale reports of the illegal slaughter of animals have been investigated and North Yorkshire recorded fifteen cases of the deliberate misdescription of food between 2011 and 2014.
Last year a report by professor Chris Elliott, commissioned in the wake of the horsemeat food scandal, recommended the setting up of a food crime unit with police-type powers.
There are some concerns cuts in local authority budgets is hitting the ability to investigate.
Jenny Morris, MBE, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Principal Policy Officer fears “...the continuing cuts to local authority funding will impact on frontline services including Environmental Health and Trading Standards.”
A recent report by Portsmouth University estimated UK food and drinks firms could be losing more than £11.2bn a year to fraud and error.
A spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency said the new food crime unit was now operational and would work with partners to “access and exchange intelligence.”