Fighting fake food & drink
13 Jun 2013
High-profile scandals in the European Union (EU) have brought
food fraud to the top of the political agenda, presenting new
opportunities in our campaign to protect Scotch Whisky.
Recent developments have also emphasised how fortunate we are
that the Scotch Whisky industry has always invested in securing
legal protection. This foresight has proved very beneficial in our
fight against imitators looking to cash in on the popularity of
The issue of protecting quality food and drink was an area of
discussion at a conference I recently attended in Italy. I
represented the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) at a conference in
Rome organised by INTERPOL and EUROPOL, the international and EU
policing authorities respectively. The event was designed to
encourage the sharing of intelligence to secure better enforcement
action against food fraud. It provided a chance to review their
Operation OPSON II which targets fake and substandard food and
drink and the organised crime networks behind illicit trade.
Participating in the conference helped generate wider support from
the police and other relevant authorities for our work in
protecting Scotch Whisky. It also allowed me to develop new
contacts, some of whom have already provided meaningful information
to assist our investigations.
More than 20 different countries plus a number of food and drink
companies were represented in Rome. I was particularly impressed by
non-EU members, such as Cote d'Ivoire and Belarus, who were not
only tackling fraud in their own countries in difficult
circumstances, but who also made a considerable effort just to
attend the conference.
We heard from Italian producers of geographically protected
products as well as from customs and police officers from around
the world. The reports covered everything from fizzy drinks that
had passed their sell by date being shipped from Europe to Africa
to fake caviar made from snails' eggs. I was also given an
opportunity to introduce the SWA and its work.
I explained how, historically, enforcement authorities, such as
the UK's own Food Standards Agency, were primarily interested in
whether or not a product was harmful to human health. Because the
vast majority of fake "Scotch" does not fall into that category, it
was often dismissed as a labelling issue for the industry to sort
out itself. The focus however has now changed and governments and
police forces are taking the mis-description of foodstuffs much
more seriously. I believe this is partly because of the
recent public concern about the origins of what we are eating and
drinking and partly because organised criminals have come to see
fake food as a low risk source of income.
At the conference, I was struck by the similarity of the
problems that everyone faced. For example genuine olive oil is
mixed with inferior fats in the same way we as we see genuine
Scotch mixed with neutral alcohol, and also the passion that the
producers felt for their products. I heard how many other
foods are copied in the USA and elsewhere because they are not
recognised as protected geographical names under local law, unlike
Scotch Whisky which is internationally recognised as being produced
exclusively in Scotland.
My overall impression was that those taking part were motivated
and enthusiastic about their work. The SWA has signed up to the
follow-on project, OPSON III, and a week of action against food
fraud, is planned for the end of 2013.
Lindesay Low, Scotch Whisky Association Legal