A recent evaluation of the UK post-harvest seafood supply chain has pinpointed factors that leave the nation’s seafood supply vulnerable to food fraud, with third-party certification identified as the most important factor associated with a company’s level of defense against food crime.

The study was led by researchers from the Institute for Global Food Security in the School of Biological Sciences at Queens University Belfast, in collaboration with researchers from VU University Amsterdam’s Faculty of Law and University College Dublin’s School of Agriculture and Food Science.

Data for the analysis was collected through a survey of 32 UK companies in the post-harvest cod, prawn, and salmon supply chains, including primary and secondary processors, wholesalers and distributors, and retail and foodservice operators. The participants were interviewed using the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-recognized SSAFE Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment Tool (FFVA), which served as the criteria used throughout the study to determine the surveyed companies’ levels of food fraud vulnerability. The SSAFE FFVA assessed 48 fraud factors relating to opportunities, motivations, and controls. Data gathered from the FFVA was combined with historical trends of fraud in the sector to help identify potential areas of current or emerging vulnerability.

Overall, the study determined the UK’s seafood supply chain to have medium vulnerability to food fraud. Prawns were found to be more susceptible to fraud than cod or salmon, due to the ease of adulteration and geographic location of suppliers. This conclusion was supported by historical data showing prawns to have the highest vulnerability and prevalence of food fraud (compared to cod and salmon).

Moreover, retailers and foodservice establishments, as well as smaller-scale companies, were the supply chain actors perceived to be the most vulnerable to fraud, because these types of companies are generally considered to have less comprehensive in-house control measures. This is in conflict with historical data that shows a greater number of food fraud reports in processing and foodservice than in retail and wholesale, however; indicating a possible divergence between company perceptions and actual risks of food fraud.

Importantly, attaining third-party certification or using certified suppliers was found to have the greatest influence on reducing food fraud vulnerability, as certified companies had more robust control measures than uncertified companies for over 80 percent of fraud factors. Therefore, the researchers believe that implementing requirements for food businesses to undergo basic training or certification programs that address food fraud prevention could help reduce future vulnerability.

Although certification is critical to food defense, the survey also found that many small, uncertified businesses in the UK use well-sourced, local supply chains, offering a short, sustainable route from boat to plate, but lack the resources or finances to prove or protect the foods’ origins. The researchers call for accessible, affordable certification and analytical solutions, in tandem with simple and personalized food fraud mitigation guidance, to help small companies demonstrate good traceability while effectively defending their supply chains from fraud.