Announcement – £500,000 EU Food Fraud Grant for Queen’s University Belfast and MSU’s Food Fraud Initiative

Written by: John Spink

Primary Source: Food Fraud Initiative


Contact: Dr. John Spink, Director & Assistant Professor, Food Fraud Initiative, Michigan State University, , , Phone: (517) 381-4491

MSU’s Food Fraud Initiative Director Dr. John Spink is pleased to announce being included as a Co-Investigator on a research team that was awarded a £500,000 grant to tackle global Food Fraud. Queen’s University Belfast (QUB, United Kingdom) led the grant, which was one of only five awarded under the ‘Understanding the Challenges of the Food System’ call by the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council  (ESRC) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), under the Global Food Security programme. “The FSA and ESRC previously identified an area of mutual interest around the challenges to the UK agri-food system, food safety, food fraud/crime and consumer trust.”

Dr. Spink stated “Not only are we pleased to be invited by QUB to collaborate, we are encouraged that ‘Food Fraud’ is being defined as a specific research area. It wasn’t long ago that Food Fraud wasn’t even specifically defined.” While the term had been used for years, Food Fraud was first thoroughly defined in a scholarly publication in Spink & Moyer’s 2011 article Defining the Public Health Threat of Food Fraud.

Food Fraud – including the sub-category of Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA) – is deception for economic gain using food. The Food Fraud prevention concepts expand beyond only adulteration of products to include any type of product fraud. “While product adulteration may be the most dangerous public health vulnerability – though fortunately very, very rarely there is an incident that could be defined as a catastrophic event – all types of fraud could lead to a public health incident and all types of fraud negatively impact consumer confidence.” For example, the lack of supply chain transparency that allows for seafood species swapping could be a gap that is exploited to insert stolen or adulterated products. “To focus on prevention and reduce the fraud opportunity it is critical that we focus holistically on all types of fraud. To focus only on adulteration is like protecting a bank by only guarding the front door and leaving the windows wide open.”

For more background see the Food Fraud Reference Sheet:

From the QUB press release:  “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.”

Also from that press release , 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 work has a very specific, holistic, all-encompassing objective: “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.”

Specifically, Dr. Spink and MSU will be leading one of the four work packages on Incident data collection to assist intelligence analysis. The main objective of this work is to understand the intelligence information that would support specific decisions. Specific resource allocation decisions – whether for agencies or industry – often are for a specific investigation (e.g. horsemeat detection) or broad investments in building infrastructure (e.g. a species testing program). This will draw on Dr. Spink’s long-term involvement with industry such as the Global Food Safety Initiative, with standards and certification such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia, with agencies such as the European Commission, and with enforcement such as Interpol/ Europol on Operation Opsen.

Food Fraud is a trans-national crime that requires global collaboration to effectively research the fraud opportunity and to implement preventative countermeasures. We are pleased that Food Fraud is becoming a specific research topic. We are also pleased to be engaging with other global thought leaders on the path forward. JWS.

Contact: Dr. John Spink, Director & Assistant Professor, Food Fraud Initiative, Michigan State University, ,, Phone: (517) 381-4491.


Additional Information about the Grant and the Funding Agency:

From the ESRC Website:

  • The ESRC funds research into the big social and economic questions facing us today. We also develop and train the UK’s future social scientists. Our research informs public policies and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. Most importantly, it makes a real difference to all our lives. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
  • The Food Standards Agency is an independent government department responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK. The agency works with businesses to help them produce safe food, and with local authorities to enforce food safety regulations. Their aim is to ensure that food produced or sold in the UK is safe to eat, consumers have the information they need to make informed choices about where and what they eat, and that regulation and enforcement is risk-based and focused on improving public health.
  • The Global Food Security programme is the UK’s main public funders of food-related research and training are working together through the Global Food Security programme to meet the challenge of providing the world’s growing population with a sustainable, secure supply of safe, nutritious, and affordable high-quality food using less land, with lower inputs, and in the context of global climate change, other environmental changes and declining resources.
  • The successful applications receiving funding are:

Analyses of food supply chains for risks and resilience to food fraud/crime (ES/M003094/1) Professor Christopher Elliott, Queens University Belfast

Food fraud: a supply network integrated systems analysis (ES/M003183/1) Mr Jon Spencer, Manchester University

Making provisions: anticipating food emergencies and assembling the food system (ES/M003159/1) Dr Andrew Donaldson, Newcastle University

Older people’s perceptions and experiences of strengths and vulnerabilities across the UK food system (ES/M00306X/1) Dr Wendy Wills, University of Hertfordshire

Public perceptions of the UK food system: public understanding and engagement, and the impact of crises and scares (ES/M003329/1) Ms Caireen Roberts, NatCen Social Research

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John Spink
Dr. Spink has been focused on product fraud since the Michigan State University’s Food Safety Program and the School of Packaging began research on the topic in 2006. This work expanded to the behavioral sciences and criminology and led to the establishment of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Initiative in 2008. In 2009 the work shifted to the School of Criminal Justice where the Initiative evolved into a Program.