Restaurants, caterers and food retailers should be wary of fraudulent food labelling which looks set to become an increasing trend, lawyers have warned.
Food fraud hit the headlines last year when a number of labelling scandals were revealed including battery farm eggs being passed for free range, farmed salmon marketed as "wild salmon" and "corn-fed chicken" having never eaten a grain of corn.
For the fraudsters, the increasing number of consumers who are prepared to spend a premium on high quality food products are an easy target.
The party selling the fraudulent food can pay a high penalty, warned Katharine Vickery, regulatory and food expert at law firm Eversheds.
"Prosecution for ‘food fraud' can be brought under the Food Safety Act 1990 or the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and penalties range from £5,000 to an unlimited fine in the Crown Court if the issue is sufficiently serious," she said.
"Food manufacturers, retailers and caterers would be well advised to ensure that they have effective systems in place to check the authenticity of suppliers and the descriptions of products that are supplied."
Such systems may include checking that a supplier is registered, carrying out audits of a supplier's premises to ensure legal compliance and even random sampling of certain products, where it is possible to tell whether they meet any claims they make, Vickery said.
Companies should also consider that the issue may extend beyond a false description and could lead to serious public health concerns, she added.
In April 2006 the Food Standards Agency set up the Food Fraud Task Force to try and combat food fraud.
The aim of the Task Force is to reduce food fraud and it hopes to provide a series of recommendations in its report, expected in October 2007.
By Daniel Thomas