On July 26, 2013, FDA issued proposed regulations that would greatly strengthen the oversight of foods imported for U.S. consumers. Under the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) regulations, importers would be required to perform certain risk-based activities to verify that food imported into the United States has been produced in a manner that provides the same level of public health protection as that required of domestic food producers. The FSVP regulations would implement section 301 of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Food fraud has become a serious issue over the past few years, thrown into the spotlight by high profile cases such as the horse meat scandal and dangerous counterfeit spirits. Today, it’s become such a lucrative business that many hard-line criminals are choosing the sky-high profits and laxer penalties over more conventional crimes such as drug smuggling and stolen goods. So what’s the solution? Across the EU, courts are starting to hand out heftier fines and harsher penalties in a bid to stop food fraud from escalating into a continental crisis. With multi-million pound fines and even imprisonment on the cards, the EU hopes that criminals will think twice before trying to fool consumers.
Crippling fines and lengthy jail terms
In January pub chain Mitchells & Butler was slapped with a £1.5 million fine for a food poisoning incident that occurred in 2012. The non-compliance led to the death of one woman, as well as the serious illness of several other diners. As well as being handed the fine, both the chef and the manager were both sent to jail for irresponsible service of food.
Dominic Watkins, a partner at DWF law firm maintains that “the game has changed as far as the food industry is concerned.” Unlike other similar incidents that have occurred in the past, he says that “the fine is way, way higher than anything we have ever seen before” and asserts that “this is the direction of travel” that industry penalties are heading in.
Another high profile case saw fish retailer Michael Redhead fined £50,000 and issued with a six month imprisonment notice for passing off one fish as another when selling produce to Iceland supermarket chain. The days of leniency are definitely over, with Food Standard Agency representative John Barnes backing the “swingeing fines” that are being introduced across Europe. “This has to put people off,” he explains, referring to the fines and jail penalties that can quite literally ruin a person’s life and career.
Safety and standing of key importance
At the end of the day, food fraud is not simply about making money by fooling manufacturers, duping the supply chain and deceiving consumers. The health risks are severe and can cause serious illness, and even death. For those with allergies food fraud and mislabelling can be lethal. For the food industry as a whole, food crimes also shake consumer confidence and put profits at risk. The EU is well aware of this and has made it crystal clear that from now on, a hard line will be taken against anyone risking the health of consumers and the reputation of the industry as a whole.
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