Article Review – Create Investigation Networks that Mirror the Criminal Network

Written by: John Spink

Primary Source: Food Fraud Initiative

[This is an excerpt from one of our recent peer-review scholarly journal articles.]

Our article focused on a recommendation for how the Public Private Partnership – that is, governments working together with industry and others – could be optimized to reduce the ‘fraud opportunity.’ One co-author was Peter Whelan, who is the head of food fraud prevention for the country of Ireland (Irish Food Safety Authority – FSAI) and also a member of the European Union Food Fraud Network and INTERPOL Operation Opson (food crime).

One key concept in the article is the creation of investigation networks that mirror the criminal network. A typical food safety incident investigation team may not have the expertise to address food fraud incidents. For example, food fraud is detected or deterred by focusing on cyber-crime, tax avoidance smuggling, or trade-based money-laundering. cyber-crime or trade-based money laundering.


1. Create a unique and specialized team:

Treat a food fraud incident and investigation with a fundamentally different approach. Consider the attributes of the unique food fraud network and then gather the specific experts.

2. Be realistic about resources and impact:

A. Law enforcement priority setting: The priority that consumers expect are: public safety (drugs, guns, violence), public health (major harms), large scale economic crimes that disrupt governments or markets (government bribery, sub-prime mortgage lending crisis), large economic crimes than impact many (billions across a market), and then smaller economic crimes and that impact one or a few stakeholders.

Conclusion: Most food fraud incidents would fall into the last category and lowest priority.

B. Investigation and prosecution methods: Product fraud and counterfeiting is considered a ‘hybrid’ crime with aspects of ‘white collar’ crime and ‘traditional’ crime (Heinonen, Spink & Wilson, 2014). The planning and reward is a typical ‘white collar crime’ while the violation is ‘traditional crime where a victim has physical contact and impact of the act. A ‘traditional’ law enforcement investigation would focus on where the crime is conducted to either produce the illicit good or to work with the victim. For product fraud it is very complex, difficult or often approaching impossible to even find the origin of the product or the fraudster (Spink, 2011). Also, when considering some simple types of tampering instead of major production locations there could be thousands of home-based fraudsters (Wheatley & Spink, 2013)

Conclusion: Traditional food safety investigation methods may be impractical or inefficient.

From the article:

“5. Scope of the Public-Private Partnership”

“The [Public Private Partnership] may be a unique collaboration with a non-traditional focus. Government agencies have been traditionally created and focused on compliance and enforcement. This contributes to prevention but is often through uncoordinated, reactive detection and prosecution. If there is a focus on an overall Food Fraud Prevention Strategy, then the resources could be defined in terms of exactly how they coordinate to reduce the overall fraud opportunity.”

“More arrests or more seizures do not necessarily mean that a problem is actually decreasing. More seizures could be due to more efficient detection methods or a focus on a specific product. Fewer arrests could result from an actual decrease in fraud or the fraudsters evolving to new types of crime or the lack of attention to food fraud detection and prevention.”

“It is also most efficient to align countermeasures to the structure of the crime and the criminal networks.”

  • Caribbean On-Line Species Substitution: For example, if the fraud opportunity is within the Caribbean region and involves on-line marketplaces as well as species substitution, then the task force would ideally be staffed with a Caribbean team with cyber-crime and species identification expertise.
  • International Broker Network for Spice Dilution: If the fraud opportunity is ground spices through a broker network from India to South America through free trade zones, then the task force would ideally be staffed with an international trade team familiar with brokers.
  • European Wine Trade-Based Money-Laundering: If the fraud opportunity is a trade-based money-laundering of premium wines within Europe, then the task force would be ideally staffed with a European team with smuggling and wine experience.

“The most effective and efficient government countermeasures are the combination of controls where there is a regulated change of product ownership such as import tariffs or sales tax. Governments have the most control of the food supply chain at border crossings and in regulating the point of consumer purchase. Industry has the most control at the ownership exchange when receiving materials and at the sale to consumers. For these reasons, Food Fraud prevention is most efficiently achieved for the country, market, and world at these exchange points through a public-private-partnership.”

The most important conclusion is that there is a growing awareness and literature on food fraud prevention, including the investigation and enforcement. The most inspiring realization is that many global law enforcement agencies – e.g., UK National Food Crime Unit (Andy Morling and team), Dutch Food Crime Unit (Karen Gussow), Scottish Food Crime Unit (Ron Naughton), etc. – are taking this novel and broad approach. We look forward to continuing to learn from these thought leaders. FFI


Reference: Spink, John, Moyer, Douglas. C., & Whelan, Peter. (2016). The role of the public private partnership in Food Fraud prevention—includes implementing the strategy. Current Opinion in Food Science, Volume 10, Pages 68-75 (ISI: NA-new, SJR: NA-new)


  • Also:
  • Heinonen, J., Spink, J., & Wilson, JM, (2014). When Crime Defies Classification: The Case of Product Counterfeiting as White Collar Crime, Security Journal, Volume 0, Number 0, pp. 00-00. (ISI 0.455; SJR 0.293)
  • Spink, J (2011).The Challenge of Intellectual Property Enforcement for Agriculture Technology Transfers, Additives, Raw Materials, and Finished Goods against Product Fraud and Counterfeiters, Journal of Intellectual Property Rights, Volume 16, March 2011, pp 183-193. (ISI 0.304; SJR 0.245)
  • Wheatley, V. and Spink, J. (2013). Defining the Public Health Threat of Dietary Supplement Fraud, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, Volume 12, Number 6, pp. 599-613. (Note: ISI ranked 1 of 161 academic Food Science Journals) (ISI 3.540; SJR 2.302)
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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.