REVIEW – UK DEFRA Review of Food Fraud Drivers and Mitigation Tools (Part 1 – Report Overview)

This new report is one of the most comprehensive and thorough reviews of the food fraud problem. The UK DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs), funded this report to address their very specific needs of implementing an efficient and effective country-level food fraud prevention strategy. A summary and free links are attached.


This new UK DEFRA Review of Food Fraud Drivers and Mitigation Tools report, combined with the UK DEFRA funded Elliott Review of UK Food Integrity, appear to be the two most comprehensive and thorough country-level food fraud prevention projects. This new Food Fraud Drivers and Mitigation Tools report is extremely timely and useful for several reasons. First, this includes an overview of the most impactful food fraud drivers – the underlying root causes of food fraud vulnerabilities. Second, the analysis was conducted to serve a user who was focused on efficiently and effectively reducing the entire food fraud vulnerability and not just specific or narrow problems. Finally, there is high credibility since this is a government-vetted report that is being used by that government to address food fraud prevention.   

Specifically – and simply – the UK Government wanted to make sure they had the best information. First, they wanted to confirm that they knew the root causes of food fraud incidents. Second, they wanted to make sure they were not missing any of the best mitigation tools.

Objective of the Food Fraud Drivers and Mitigation Tools project and report:

  • “Understand the drivers of food fraud, and how these are likely to vary in the short to medium term.
  • Establish how these varying drivers may affect food fraud trends in the short to medium term.
  • Explore what current and emerging food fraud mitigation tools and systems exist, and how these can be used to inform policy development to ensure a resilient and competitive food supply.”

This is the “Part 1 – Report Overview” that will be supplemented by future blog posts which will cover more sections and details of the Food Fraud Drivers and Mitigation Tools report.

UK Food Fraud Prevention Project Activity

The Elliott Review provided a comprehensive review of the country-level food fraud problem and then provided very practical and direct recommended actions. The 2012 horsemeat in beef fraud was the reason that the Elliott Review was commissioned. The Elliott Review was started in 2013 and published in July 2014. A key success was the creation and expansion of the UK National Food Crime Unit (NFCU).

In 2018, the DEFRA funded this Food Fraud Drivers and Mitigation Tools project “to identify the global drivers of food fraud that are likely to impact the UK in the short to medium term and couple this with an assessment of current and emerging food fraud mitigation tools and techniques, to assess how these might be used to inform future UK agri-food policy.”

Together, these two reports are very impactful because they were commissioned by one entity to specifically meet their own needs. Throughout the project, the DEFRA guidance team was extremely active and engaged in helping focus the direction on actionable intelligence – research that could meet their specific needs. This guidance helped the report provide very specific value to not only DEFRA but any agency or company that is addressing food fraud prevention.

The new report is more the format of an informative book chapter than a critical academic research journal article. A book chapter covers more general topics and requires less rigorous statistical analysis. While the new report does have a survey and interview data, the ‘analysis’ is a review of the literature review findings and descriptive analysis (e.g., simple analysis such as percent adoption rates rather than advanced statistical modeling). There were relatively few scholarly journal articles on these topics since these types of projects “do not lend themselves as suitable subjects for academic scientific publications.”

Report Phase 1 Literature Search and Phase 2 List of Tools

To start, phase 1 of the project gathered information from a critical literature review that was then reviewed during a live workshop with agency and industry experts, and then supplemented by a global survey of expert practitioners.

The information from phase 1 was the starting point for phase 2, which gathered and organized a wide range of the tools and sources of information for addressing food fraud. This included 19 sections of: Incident Data Sets, Macro-Economic Data Sets, Artificial Intelligence: Data Collation, Risk Scoring Models (including Bayesian Networks), Artificial Intelligence: Predictive Analytics, Alert Services, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software, Internet-of-Things (IoT), Business Approval and Certification, Product Certification, Financial, Investigation Tracking and Criminal Justice Data Sets, Artificial Intelligence: Anomaly Detection, Information Sharing Networks, Forensic Accounting, Surveillance Testing, Audit, Whistleblowing, and Offender Profiling.

Findings and Conclusions

Regarding food fraud drivers:

  • “The literature concludes that it is too simple to just use the base macro-economic factors to develop and implement a successful Food Fraud Prevention Strategy.”
  • “The lack of a management system, itself, is a system weakness that creates an ever-evolving fraud opportunity for an individual ‘motivated’ fraudster.”
  • “There are many modelling and prediction tools for fraud risk. Generally, these do not address the main drivers of food fraud identified in Phase 1 of this project.”
  • “A general learning from the literature review was the need to better apply the scientific method (“the recognition and formulation of a problem” before “the formulation and testing of hypotheses”) to this field. Too often, researchers developed a tool without being clear as to the problem they were aiming to address, completed a pilot, but then did not update or review it.” [Note: this is sometimes referred to as the inefficiency of “a solution being force fit to a problem.”]
  • “No digital tools, or integrated sets of tools, were identified that covered all functions required for an effective food fraud mitigation strategy. Stakeholders were using different tools for different specific purposes and stitching together the intelligence through human interpretation and discussion to decide the risk and impact for their own operation.”

“The five highest ranking global drivers of food fraud” were identified as being:

  1. Macro-economic factors that have an immediate effect on food supply/demand e.g., Conflict, disease, and natural disasters.
  2. Consumer demand due to trends for provenance, ethical or complex foods which are both expensive to source and easy to imitate.
  3. Complexity of global food supply chains.
  4. Macro-economic factors that have a chronic effect on supply vs demand of key foods e.g., climate change / global population growth.
  5. Ambiguous or impractical legislation or labelling requirements.”

“The five highest ranking ideas for “what the UK could do better to mitigate food fraud” were:

  1. Authoritative practical guide/toolkit for mitigating risk for smaller businesses.
  2. Better communication & information sharing.
  3. Intelligence sharing along the whole supply chain, including regulators.
  4. Better use of Artificial Intelligence.
  5. Data mining and sharing of government tools & databases.”

Takeaway Points

  • The food fraud drivers are more than simple macro-economic factors, and the vulnerability is based on the opportunity for an individual ‘motivated offender.’ Of course, the macro-factors such as supply shortages or country-level regulatory compliance are important, but the final decision to commit the crime is based on local, micro-level factors that are unique to a fraudster.
  • The food fraud vulnerability is so complex that there should be an over-arching management system to coordinate and calibrate all the activities.
  • While we will provide reviews of the full report details, it is recommended that you download and review the report for yourself:


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