BRITAIN'S ORGANIC FOOD SCAM EXPOSED
Jamie Doward, Mark Townsend and Andrew
Sunday August 21, 2005
Britain's organic food revolution was
facing its first serious test last night after an Observer
investigation revealed disturbing levels of fraud within
Farmers, retailers and food inspectors have disclosed a
catalogue of malpractice, including producers falsely passing
off food as organic and retailers failing to gain accreditation
from independent inspectors. The findings raise concerns
that consumers paying high premiums for organic food are
being ripped off.
The revelations follow what is believed
to have been the UK's first concerted investigation into
organic food fraud by trading standards officers. An inquiry
for Richmond council, in south-west London, exposed a number
of retailers wrongly selling food as organic. Two traders
were prosecuted earlier this month as a result of the investigation.
Stephen Sains, a butcher in Richmond, was
fined more than £6,000 for falsely labelling food.
Andrew Portch, a Somerset farmer, was fined more than £3,000
for food labelling offences and using organic certification
without the right accreditation. Portch's firm declined
to comment. Sains said he was changing his labelling.
Trading standards teams across the UK told
The Observer they were aware consumers' concerns about fraud
were increasing. 'As organic food increases in popularity,
more people are going to take advantage,' said David Pickering
of the Trading Standards Institute.
Norfolk council's trading standards department
said it had investigated a number of people over the production
and marketing of organic food in recent years. 'It's certainly
an area open to exploitation. People see organic food as
a way to make a few quick bob,' a spokesman said.
Earlier this year, Dorset council launched
a clampdown on fraud within the organic food industry which
has grown chiefly thanks to a rise in the number of farmers'
markets and home delivery 'box schemes'.
But, despite the concerns, trading standards
officers said few resources were being devoted to tackling
the growing problem.
'The term organic is clearly being abused,
by both producers and sellers. Not many local authorities
have the resources to test the integrity of organic food,'
said Dr Yunes Teinaz, principal environmental health officer
at Hackney Borough Council.
Figures from market research agency Mintel
suggest three out of four households now buy some organic
food and environmental groups said fraudulent activity within
the industry must be stamped out for the sake of customers
and legitimate farmers.
'It is not right consumers are paying over
the odds because of fraudsters,' said Vicki Hird, Friends
of the Earth's food campaigner.
'These people are causing economic damage
to other businesses who are playing by the rules,' said
Jenny Morris of the Chartered Institute of Environmental
There are fears an increasing amount of
'organic' food is coming in from overseas making it difficult
to establish its provenance.
'There are no tests for proving food is
organic,' Morris said. 'So it comes down to traceability,
you have to follow a paper trail.