food crime

The National Food Crime Unit needs an extra £5m a year and the power to lead full criminal investigations to protect British consumers after Brexit, boss Andy Morling has said.

In a paper to the FSA ahead of its upcoming meeting next Wednesday, Morling said it was critical for the NFCU to move into phase two before the UK’s March 2019 departure from the EU.

Brexit would not only open up new fraud opportunities to criminals and dishonest industry actors, Morling warned, but it could mean the UK no longer has access to EU intelligence networks it currently uses to understand and predict food crime threats.

‘It is therefore right to prepare for increased fraud risks to UK consumers without the co-operation and pre-warning we have come to expect. A fully mandated and resourced NFCU will fill this gap,’ the paper said.

A phase two NFCU would be able to ‘effectively and comprehensively’ clamp down on dishonesty in the food industry, and lead criminal investigations where fraud or serious and intentional non-compliance was suspected. This would enable local authorities to focus their resources on hygiene standards and low level non-compliances, which are ‘often a precursor to more serious fraud’.

By confiscating the proceeds of crime, subject to court decisions, the NFCU could even potentially contribute to the government and FSA coffers in the future, Morling suggested.

Extra funding

So far, the government has only invested at £2.45m in the NFCU since it was established three years ago, with the net cost of operations in 2017/18 forecast at just over £1m, the paper revealed.

In order to move into phase two it would need an additional £4m-5m a year, Morling said - which is lower than the £8m outlined in the FSA’s review of the NFCU last year.

A fully operational NFCU would also need access to the same food and consumer enforcement powers as local authorities and the police, Morling said.

‘In order to ensure that the NFCU has a clear mandate to conduct investigative work under Phase 2, there is a need to reflect this element of the Agency’s extended remit within relevant food legislation,’ his paper stated.

‘This would ensure the unit is recognised as having full competence as a law enforcement function and reduce the likelihood of challenge during the criminal justice process.’


The FSA has insisted the NFCU will not move into phase two without the necessary funding, but the board will now be asked agree on Morling’s vision for a fully operational unit so there would be no delay if the funding is made available.

Morling also asked the board to agree on a protocol for handling information shared with the NFCU by the industry’s Food Industry Intelligence Network (FIIN), which collects and analyses high-level audit data from retailers and processors to help identify emerging threats.

FIIN has previously refused to share the analysis with the NFCU, expressing concerns over the FSA’s openness policy. However, the NFCU understands it might be willing to enter into an information-sharing agreement subject to receiving certain assurances in respect to its handling.

These include commitments to store any information in a secure database, protect FIIN as the source of the data, and keep all information from FIIN completely confidential.

Promising to keep information secret goes against the FSA’s openness and transparency agenda, but Morling said the NFCU was already using this protocol to protect confidential sources, and it was “very much the default position” for all law enforcement bodies.