Tackling Food Crimes and Food Criminals
When things “go wrong” in the food system and some type of “scandal” breaks out, the daily flow of agricultural commodities (including animals and their body parts) through the food chain is disrupted. In cases of mislabeled, tainted, or otherwise fraudulently sold meat, the consumer is intentionally (or sometimes unintentionally) duped into purchasing a product that is not what they think it is. While eating meat may not be a crime, misrepresenting the meat one sells is a crime, and very little research has been done on the “whys” and “hows” of food criminals. Financial gain is the most obvious motive for food-related crimes, but it’s a much larger challenge to explain and ultimately address the activities of those individuals and the associated criminal and commercial organizations.
In this paper, researchers attempt to outline what constitutes a food criminal. They point to scandals such as the “European Horsemeat Scandal of 2013 (Horsegate)” and the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the UK as examples of food crimes where “the animal’s slaughter, processing and eventual consumption in homes and restaurants are all necessary stages in an extended illicit food supply chain.” Food crimes can range from animals “being stolen or illegally slaughtered through organized activities, including the poaching of game animals, prior to entering the supply chain,” to mislabeling animal meat so that it can be “used to substitute for more expensive animal protein.” Food crimes may also involve the “the spreading of disease with criminal intent, for criminal compensation claims, and so on.”
In describing these, the authors note a big question relating to how food crimes happen is whether food fraud is “enacted by lone individuals within a business setting, or whether such food crime is driven by a conspiracy of practice across a wider food supply chain or through organized criminal networks.” From their position, they say that any model that tries to understand food crimes needs to account for both possibilities. Food fraud, in general, has become harder to trace because of the ever-increasing complexity of the food chain and because there are many players involved. But we can divide it roughly into “industry insiders” and “industry outsiders.”
Insiders may include: rogue and criminal farmers; rogue entrepreneurs and small businessmen; rogue butchers and meat traders; and “Specialist Workers,” all playing different roles and having “differing modus operandi and vivendi.” The outsiders category may include: criminal mafias and cartels; organized crime groups; disorganized criminals and criminal labor. If organizations want to mitigate food-related crime (and find food criminals) they need to “consider the type of criminal activity and also the likelihood for this activity to be associated with their materials and products.”
Of course, for advocates of animal used for food, addressing these exceptional “criminal” cases is just one small part of a larger unethical system of animal farming. Still, finding and punishing “food criminals” in these cases is important as it not only shows flaws in the current system but also begins to establish precedents that could be pushed further. This research shows that, when it comes to food crimes and mitigating the activities of food criminals, governments (and some advocates) should pursue these activities as they might pursue other organized and/or sophisticated crimes.