European Food Crime Research Group

  • Spencer, Jonathan (CoI)
  • Lord, Nicholas (CoI)
  • Huisman, Wim (CoI)
  • Paoli, Letizia (CoI)
  • Kersten, Loes (CoI)

Project Details


Researching food crime in Europe

Despite food crimes being a longstanding phenomenon, they have traditionally not been strongly recognised as a major global policy issue. Nor have these crimes been comprehensively conceptualised by the scientific community. In recent years, however, food crimes, such as food frauds and the adulteration and mislabelling of food, or the counterfeiting of foodstuffs, have emerged as primary issues of social policy both nationally and regionally.


The European Food Crime Research Group is an initiative of The University of Manchester (UK), VU Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and KU Leuven (Belgium). It foregrounds the pursuit of conceptual, theoretical, empirical and methodological development in researching food crime in Europe.

Recent scandals such as the substitution of beef mince with horsemeat, or the production and distribution of fake alcohols, have increased public and policy awareness of the multiple harms that food crimes present.

These crimes affect individuals, the environment, the government and private industries.
Consequently, the European Union is now progressively concerned that such cases signal an increase in the number of food crime incidents. Furthermore, that this growing trend reflects a structural weakness within the food chain and the food system and markets more generally. However, empirical understanding of food crimes remains underdeveloped.


It is the core aim of the European Food Crime Research Group to mobilise European-wide food crime research expertise in order to develop the ‘state of the art’ in thinking and understanding of food crimes in relation to their:
• Causes, nature and organisation;
• Extent and scope;
• Common trends, patterns and features;
• Harms (and other consequences; and
• The associated societal responses, both state and non-state.

The Group seeks European funding to undertake and foreground collaborative research and inquiry into high priority food crime issues in Europe.


• From farm to fork: harm prevention & regulatory policy in the meat supply chain

With this project we aim to gain a better insight in the way the meat supply chain is regulated and how corporate actors in meat supply chains experience the various domains of law and regulation that apply to them. Regulatory compliance and non-compliance in different parts of the meat supply chains, from primary production to consumption, will be identified and their consequences assessed, to reflect on the way law and regulation is designed, implemented and enforced to reduce harms. This is done by an empirical study that consists of qualitative methods, including a document analysis and interviews in Belgium and the Netherlands with different actors (or their representatives) who are working in the meat supply chain, who are responsible for its regulation and law enforcement and those affected by regulatory non-compliance.

Project dates: 2015 – 2019
Principal Investigator: Loes Kersten (KU Leuven, Belgium)
Supervision: Prof. Letizia Paoli (KU Leuven) and Prof. Wim Huisman (VU University, Amsterdam)
Funder: Research Foundation Flanders (FWO

• Milk authenticity and fraud mitigation

Food fraud is not new for us, various food fraud incidents happened in the past decades, such as melamine in pet food and infant formula in 2008 and horse meat in ground beef in 2013. These cases not only brought large economic losses of companies, but also had an influential impact on human health and public confidence. Dairy products are in the top of most adulterated food products all around the world. Many factors lead to the adulteration of a product, such as complicated composition, long supply chain, large economical profit and lack of effective detection methods.

Milk and milk products, with all these risk factors mentioned above, have become an easy target for fraudsters. Facing the complicated dairy supply chain, an efficient food management system is necessary to prevent the fraud incidents. In order to assure the authenticity of milk and deal with dairy fraud issues, one has to reveal the risk factors in dairy supply chain, get a deep understanding of authentic milk characteristics and have effective analysis techniques to detect the adulterations at the critical points along the supply chain.

The objectives of this project are: (a) to elucidate the typical fraud risk factors in the dairy supply chain in China, (b) to explore the unique physical and chemical characteristics to discern anomalies from normal milk by portable means to mitigate the milk fraud risks.

Principal investigator: Yuzheng Yang, Wageningen University
Co-investigators: Saskia van Ruth, Wageningen University, Wim Huisman, VU University Amsterdam

• Food fraud: A supply network integrated systems analysis

This ESRC/Food Standards Agency funded research has three distinct but integrated research streams to answer the question: How does the nature, functioning and regulation of a food supply network affect the risk of food fraud by adulteration? This research question is allied to one anticipated integrative output: a predictive, transposable dynamic computational model that will outline nodes in a food supply network vulnerable to criminal acts of adulteration.

Project dates: January 2015 – February 2017
Principal Investigator: Jon Spencer (UoM)

• Distribution and consumption of counterfeit alcohol: Getting to grips with fake booze

The aim of this Alcohol Research UK funded project is to develop a greater and more detailed understanding of the distribution mechanisms associated with counterfeit alcohol. The distribution of counterfeit alcohol requires a high level of organisation and a developed network of actors to ensure market penetration. The discipline of criminology brings a particular approach to the understanding organisation of this crime and provides more detailed insights into how the networks of distribution operate.

Project dates: September 2016 – August 2018
Principal Investigator: Jon Spencer (UoM)
Co-Investigators: Nicholas Lord (UoM) and Elisa Bellotti (UoM)
Research Associate: Katie Benson (UoM)

• A criminological network analysis of counterfeit alcohol distribution

This UMRI funded project integrates a cutting-edge criminological and social network analytical theoretical approach to understand the organisation of the distribution of counterfeit alcohols. We analyse the dynamics between the ‘scripts’ through which offenders must go in order to accomplish their counterfeit alcohol enterprise and how these scripts are shaped by the networks of cooperating actors at various stages of the crime commission process. The project explores the contention that these non-legitimate actions are hidden behind the actions of otherwise legitimate actors and business practices and that the concealment of illicit conduct in relation to the distribution and supply of counterfeit alcohol can be defined as an habitual and frequent practice within this market.

Project dates: March 2016 – November 2016
Principal Investigator: Jon Spencer (UoM)
Co-Investigators: Nicholas Lord (UoM) and Elisa Bellotti (UoM)
Research Associate: Katie Benson (UoM)

• Corporate crime in the meat supply chain

Various European countries have recently been struck with cases of food fraud in the meat supply chain. Several company managers are criminally prosecuted in the so-called ‘Horsemeat scandal’. However, recent prosecutions for fraud in the meat industry in EU countries are not limited to horsemeat. In criminology, food fraud is understudied. The global food industry suggests to ‘think like a criminal’ to prevent food fraud. As the suspects in the recent criminal cases are regular actors in the meat supply chain, this project is using the criminological concept of ‘corporate crime’ to gain a better understanding of the nature and causes of fraud in the meat supply chain and the involvement of meat processing companies. Lessons from criminological studies on corporate crime will be used to study and understand the motivations and opportunities of offenders in the recent cases of food fraud in the meat supply chain. From this analysis, options for prevention and intervention will be deducted.

Project dates: 2014 – 2018
Principal Investigator: Wim Huisman, VU University Amsterdam

• SSAFE Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment Tool

Alarmed by recent food fraud scandals, the global food industry is trying to reduce their vulnerability to food fraud within food supply chains. However, current food safety management systems are not designed for fraud detection or mitigation, but new food safety guidelines require it. That is why SSAFE (representing global food industry leaders) has invited Wageningen University and VU University Amsterdam to create a food fraud vulnerability assessment tool to help companies identify their vulnerabilities to food fraud threats.
This is an industry-led solution that supports the Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) guidelines. SSAFE developed the tool with PwC, and in consultation with food industry leaders around the world to help put companies in a stronger position to fight fraud. On an aggregative level, the result of these company assessments contribute to a better understanding of the vulnerabilities of food supply chains for food fraud.

The tool is freely available for all food companies to download in Excel at SSAFE  or from PWC  and on Apple’s App Store and on Google Play.

Project dates: 2013-2017
Principal investigator: Saskia van Ruth, Wageningen University
Co-investigators: Pieternel Luning, Wageningen University, Wim Huisman, VU University Amsterdam

• Harmful labour practices and migrant workers in UK food supply chains

The concept of harm in criminology has gained increasing attention in recent years. When considering harmful labour practices, most research focuses on extreme cases of exploitation, including modern-day slavery, human trafficking, and forced labour. The aim of this project is to examine labour harms in UK food supply chains that fall under the threshold needed in order to be classed as modern-day slavery. Migrants in the UK may be particularly vulnerable to labour harms if they are unaware of their employment rights, do not speak English, and have irregular immigration status. UK food production is associated with many supply chain businesses minimising costs, whereby suppliers outsource their labour costs to intermediaries. These legal supply chain processes can have harmful consequences on labourers in the form of insecure work, underpayment, and various forms of abuse. The research consists of a qualitative study, which includes migrant workers and food supply chain stakeholders.

Project dates: 2014-2017
Principal investigator: Jon Davies, University of Manchester


• Bellotti, E., Spencer, J., Lord, N. and Benson, K. (2018) ‘Counterfeit alcohol distribution: A criminological script network analysis‘, European Journal of Criminology, First Published Online August 2018.

• Flores Elizondo, C., Lord, N. and Spencer, J. (2018) ‘Food fraud and the Fraud Act 2006: complementarity and limitations’ in C. Monaghan and N. Monaghan (eds) Financial Crime and Corporate Misconduct: A Critical Evaluation of Fraud Legislation, Abingdon: Routledge

• Huisman, W., K. Camphuyzen en C. Bijleveld (2018) Naar een blauwe criminologie? Over illegale visserij, visfraude en criminologie, Tijdschrift voor criminologie, 60(2), 199-313. (‘Towards a blue criminology? Illegal fishing, fish fraud and criminology’, Dutch Journal of Criminology)

• Lord, N., Spencer, J., Albanese, J. and Flores Elizondo, C. (2017) ‘In pursuit of food system integrity: the situational prevention of food fraud enterprise‘, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 23(4): 483-501

• Lord, N., Flores Elizondo, C. and Spencer, J. (2017) ‘The Dynamics of Food Fraud: the interactions between criminal opportunity and market (dys)functionality in legitimate business‘, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 17(5): 605-623.

• Lord, N., Spencer, J., Bellotti, E. and Benson, K. (2017) ‘A script analysis of the distribution of counterfeit alcohol across two European jurisdictions‘, Trends in Organised Crime, 20(3-4): 252-272.

• Yang, Y., W. Huisman, K.A. Hetting, N. Liu, J. Heck, G.H. Schrijver, L. Gaiardonia & S.M. van Ruth (2019) Fraud vulnerability in the Dutch milk supply chain: Assessments of farmers, processors, Food Control, 95(1), 308-317.

• Ruth, S. M. van, Luning, P. A., Silvis, I. C. J., Yang, Y. and Huisman, W. (2018) ‘Differences in fraud vulnerability in various food supply chains and their tiers‘, Food Control, 84: 375-381.

• Ruth, S. M. van, Huisman, W. and Luning, P. A. (2017) ‘Food fraud vulnerability and its key factors‘, Trends in Food Science and Technology, 67: 70-75.

• Spencer, J., Lord, N., Benson, K. and Bellotti, E. (2018) ‘‘C’ is for commercial collaboration: enterprise and structure in the ‘middle market’ of counterfeit alcohol distribution‘, Crime, Law and Social Change, First Online June 2018

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UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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