The 2018 report on the activities of the EU Food Fraud Network was published on 12 April and shows a significant increase in reported incidents; top categories of food reported were 'fish and fish products', followed by 'meat and meat products' and then 'fats and oils'.
Food fraud exists whenever individuals or businesses intentionally deceive the consumers, gaining an unfair advantage and violating the agri-food chain legislation.
Four key operative criteria are referred to for distinguishing whether a case should be considered as fraud or as non-compliance: if a case matches all four criteria, then it is considered a suspicion of fraud. These criteria correspond to the rules currently in place in the EU countries to report frauds:
- Violation of EU law:it involves a violation of one or more rules codified in the EU agri-food chain legislation.
- Intention:it can be verified through a number of factors which give strong grounds to believe that certain non-compliances are not happening by chance, such as the replacement of a high quality ingredient with a lower quality one (if a contamination due to production processes is possible, when an ingredient is mostly replaced with a lower quality one there is substitution, which often implies fraudulent intent).
- Economic gain:it implies some form of direct or indirect economic advantage, which should not be marginal.
- Deception of customers:it involves some form of deception of the customers/consumers (example: altered colouring or altered labels, which mystify the true quality or, in worse cases even the nature of a product). The deceptive element may also come in the form of a public health risk as some real properties of the product are hidden (for example, undeclared allergens).
The report presents the voluntary exchanges related to food fraud suspicions within the EU Administrative Assistance and Cooperation (AAC) System. The AAC is the information technology system developed and managed by the European Commission for EU countries to exchange data in a structured manner regarding non-compliances and potential intentional violations of the EU agri-food chain legislation.
In 2018, a total of 234 requests for cooperation were launched in the AAC-FF by the Member States and Norway, 58 of which originating in Germany. Though the list of requests exchanged in the system does not represent the entirety of food fraud incidents occurring in the EU, its number has increased significantly in 2018 (compared to 167 cases in 2016). The category “fish and fish products” had the largest number of requests (45), followed by “meat and meat products” and “fats and oils”.
Launched in 2013, the EU Food Fraud Network allows Member States to work in matters where the national authorities are confronted with possible intentional violations of the EU agri-food chain legislation with a cross-border impact. The EU Food Fraud Network links the liaison bodies designated by each Member State in accordance with the rules laid down in the Official Controls Regulation. The participants work on a voluntary basis (differently from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, RASFF) and only for cross-border non-compliances. The responsibility for the follow-up actions in the AAC-FF lies with the Member States.