The food safety watchdog has launched a new freephone number to make it easier for people to report suspected food fraud as it revealed related crimes cost the UK economy up to £2 billion a year.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the new phone number would allow people to speak up and share their concerns as part of efforts to “strengthen the collective response” to tackling food crime.
FSA chief executive Emily Miles announced in May that the agency was exploring ways to prevent criminal activity in the food industry following fraud allegations in the meat sector.
In an update from its Food Fraud Working Group, the FSA said it was working with industry on ways to encourage food fraud whistleblowing and strengthening arrangements to allow the sharing of information between third-party auditors used by food businesses and the FSA to help prevent criminal activity.
It was also improving how it issued intelligence-based alerts to better warn businesses about potential food fraud in supply chains.
Three arrests were made after supermarket chain Booths received pre-packaged sliced meats and deli products that were allegedly sourced from South America and Europe, but labelled as British.
The FSA confirmed that no further arrests had been made.
In a separate report, the FSA estimated that the cost of food fraud to consumers, businesses and government was between £410 million and £1.96 billion per year.
It also estimated the value of fraudulent food and drink in the UK to be between £296 million and £1.48 billion a year.
Ms Miles said: “The UK has some of the safest and most authentic food in the world, but there will always be a threat of criminality in the food system.
“Food businesses are the first and most important line of defence and we want to support them. This is one of the reasons why we launched a working group to explore together whether some areas of our collective response to food crime can be improved. Together, we’re making it easier to share intelligence and information by helping people who work in the food system to share their concerns with us freely and confidentially.
“Our research suggests that for businesses and consumers feeling the financial strain, the cost of food crime still matters.”
Helen Sisson, director and co-chair of the Food Industry Intelligence Network said: “We are pleased to be taking action with the FSA and our partners in the food industry to strengthen the way we can prevent food crime in our supply chains.
“Cooperation and communication between every part of the food system is vital to protect the public and the global reputation of UK food.”
Anyone who suspects food fraud can report it to “Food Crime Confidential” on food.gov.uk or by phoning 0800 028 1180 (0207 276 8787 for non-UK mobiles and calls).