Scientists at Queen's University Belfast have received £500,000 to investigate global food fraud and help prevent criminal activity within the industry.
The two year project will investigate vulnerabilities in food supply chains and evaluate effective ways to improve consumer trust in food and its producers.
Queen's was awarded one of only five grants from the 'Understanding the Challenges of the Food System' call by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Food Standards Agency, under the Global Food Security programme.
Professor Chris Elliott and Dr Moira Dean from the Queen's Institute for Global Food Security and their colleagues from the School of Law & Institute for Study of Conflict Transformation, in collaboration with Dr John Spink from Michigan State University will undertake a high level analysis of vulnerabilities across a number of important food supply chains.
The team will also look at potential business impacts from fraudulent practice and investigate the impact of food fraud on the consumer and test the effectiveness of fraud prevention strategies in enhancing consumer trust in food products and producers.
Professor Chris Elliott said: "There are a growing number of reports of fraud and criminal activity in global food supply systems. These are causing huge concerns to governmental agencies and to the food industry. Consumers are losing trust in the safety and quality of what they purchase. This Queen's University led study will play a very important role in ascertaining where the major vulnerabilities are and how best to deal with them. Helping to restore consumer trust is a key objective of our work.
"The current food protection systems are not designed to look for the never-ending number of potential adulterants that may show up in the food supply. As criminal activity by design is intended to elude detection, new tools and approaches to the supply chain management are called for.
"This project will explore how other countries deal with issues of food safety and analyse legal law cases which relate to fraud. Based on an assumption that fraudsters will exploit any intelligence gathering system it will also examine current and potential models of data collection and intelligence sharing and test their vulnerabilities to future fraudulent attacks. This will help to develop a novel data collection sharing system that is more robust and secure."
Throughout this two year project Professor Elliott and his team will also combine theories and methods from psychology, political economy, sociology, anthropology, criminology and law, with natural science disciplines to help determine how fraud can happen and what measures could be put in place to prevent it from happening in the future.
Professor Paul Boyle, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said: "We're delighted to come together with the Food Standards Agency to fund innovative research into important areas which underpin UK food security. The projects that are being funded will deal with priorities such as resilience, safety and security, food price volatility and supply chain management - all of which are recognised as yielding important social science research challenges to be addressed for the mutual benefit of the food industry and consumers alike."