Crackdown on Food Crime
Crackdown on food crime sees the number of raids jump 10% in 3 years, but still remains worryingly low, as off-licences and takeaway shops continue to commit offences. Concerns that a lack of staff and funding mean councils aren't doing enough.
Local councils in Great Britain have been cracking down on food crime with the number of raids on outlets such as off licences and takeaway shops by trading standards teams up by 10% over the last three years, from 115 in 2012/13 to 127 in 2014/15* says EMW, the commercial law firm.
EMW adds that despite the rise, the number of raids remains low suggesting that under-resourced councils may be struggling to carry out investigations.
EMW says that a large majority of raids took place due to the illegal selling of counterfeit alcohol. Examples of local authorities raiding properties for alcohol offences include:
- Camden council reported 9 raids and subsequent seizure of illicit alcohol within the three year period.
- Hackney council saw 4 raids within one year for the sale of counterfeit vodka and wine.
- Fulham and Hammersmith saw 4 raids in the last three years for the sale of counterfeit champagne and spirits.
EMW explains that local councils will often be alerted by consumers when a registered outlet selling food or drink is believed to have committed an offence, and a raid by the trading standards team will take place in the most serious of cases. Trading standards teams will also carry out raids based on information they have gathered themselves.
EMW adds that aside from off licences and other shops selling counterfeit alcohol, another main culprit for offences is late night takeaway and fast food outlets, where food can be misrepresented.
Sebastian Calnan, Consultant at EMW, comments
"Although there has been a rise in raids, consumers will remain concerned that there are many more businesses escaping Trading Standards' net. Horror stories of takeaways substituting the advertised meat for illegal or unsavoury alternatives have been well publicised. Trading standards teams do a great job but without adequate funding or resources instances of food and drink fraud or miselling may slip through the cracks."
EMW adds that there have been concerns that staff and budget cuts have adversely affected local councils' ability to investigate food crimes. Over the last five years the number of food hygiene interventions has decreased by 6.8% despite customer complaints rising by 9.3% in the same period, suggesting that councils are struggling to deliver an adequate service. **
"As takeaways are common culprits of food fraud or miselling, trading standards teams at local councils will often target these venues but, more still needs to be done to ensure the selling of food and drink is both safe and fair for the consumer."
Despite crackdown very few raids lead to prosecutions for breaching food and drink laws
However, EMW says that of the 363 raids carried out over the three year period just 45 resulted in an enforcement action or prosecution. EMW adds that as a result of discrepancies in funding and resources, the number of raids undertaken will also often vary significantly from council to council. The highest number of raids occurred in Birmingham, where 102 raids were undertaken by trading standards in the last three years.
Sebastian Calnan continues
"Of course we would expect more raids to happen in larger cities like Birmingham, as there are more opportunities for offences to take place, but, the low numbers of raids in other areas and in Great Britain overall are a cause for concern."
HMRC's new 'Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme' (AWRS), launched in January this year, requires all businesses selling alcohol to other businesses to register with the scheme by March 31st 2016.
EMW adds that the scheme aims to further regulate the alcohol trade by reducing the sale of illicit alcohol, which can be dangerous to consumers, and help recoup the £1.2bn that HMRC estimates is lost through evasion of alcohol duty and VAT each year.
Crackdown on food crime sees the number of raids jump 10% in 3 years
*Year end March 31st, figures based on research of 243 councils in England, Scotland and Wales
** Source: Food Standards Agency
For more information, contact Sebastian Calnan.