Birmingham helping lead the way in tackling food crime.

What is Food Crime?

By Kate Cooper

photo of Kate Cooper

photo by Graeme Braidwood

The first time I ever heard the phrase ‘food crime’ was from Professor Chris Elliott. He’d been commissioned by the Government to investigate our food supply network after the ‘Horsegate’ scandal, and he’d asked to see me because of The New Optimists work with scientists.

He asked me to help him draw up a case study of how a major UK city could tackle food crime for inclusion in his final report. This led to a workshop held in Birmingham attended by over 40 people from across the food supply network including the Professor and his team from Defra (Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs). An executive summary from the Elliott Review Birmingham (the report resulting from the workshop), appears as Annex N in his final report to the Government titled Elliott Review into the integrity and assurance of food supply networks: A National Food Crime Prevention Framework which was published in September 2014.

Yup, Birmingham features as the case study of how a major UK city can tackle food crime.

What is food crime? Here are Professor Chris Elliott’s own words, written for the Foreword to a new book by Richard Evershed and Nicola Temple, “Sorting the beef from the bull: The science of food fraud forensics”.

It’s a highly readable, informative — if a tad scary — book on the subject of food crime:

To many, food fraud is about trivial acts of cheating undertaken by a few dodgy butchers or fast food outlets. Perhaps it is a handful of sawdust popped into the sausage mix, or a little something added to the lamb to eke it out a bit. While there is no doubt such acts occur fairly frequently and they certainly shouldn’t, food fraud is really much more complex, sinister and organised, and it has the potential to ruin businesses and the lives of those affected.

Food fraud becomes food crime when the level or organisation increases to the point that formal or informal networks of perpetrators are involved, and have differing roles in the criminal activity.

Firstly, there is the ‘fraud inventor’; i.e. the person (or persons) who devises the way of cheating… Secondly, there are those that deal with the logistics… Thirdly, there are those that develop the countermeasures to detection working out how to evade laboratory testing and auditing… The final ‘expert’ of the gang is often the enforcer, those that threaten and bully the most vulnerable in the food industry to turn a blind eye or become complicit in the fraud itself. I have met some of these at first hand, and I know the degree of menace that comes with them.

You can read the full Foreword in the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ feature for the books listing

The characters and songs in our musical, The Hand That Feeds illustrate these roles in food crime activity. The protagonist, Robbie, is the bottom of the pile, the guy who thinks a few dodgy deals don’t make a difference.

But, they do.

Kate CooperChief Narrativium Prospector at The New Optimists

“The Hand That Feeds – a musical about food crime” is being staged on the steps of St Martin’s in the Bullring, Birmingham city centre – Saturday 14th May at 12 noon and again at 2.30pm.

Narrativium III performance area

Performing here…

Those that register for #StopFoodCrime-fighter goodie bags can collect them before and after the performances.

2 responses to “Birmingham helping lead the way in tackling food crime.”

  1. […] was back in spring, 2015, when Kate Cooper asked if I’d like to be involved in a “mad food crime opera”. The challenge, she said, was to turn facts about food crime into an entertaining and accessible […]

  2. […] Optimists’ Narrativium performances, ‘Food Futures’, in the summer of 2014, that Kate Cooper started talking about what she called her “Mad Opera” – inspired by the Horsemeat Scandal which had precipitated a media and ministerial storm back […]

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