HomeSafetyUK, giga-fraud on meat sold by Booths. Waiting for the blockchain

UK, giga-fraud on meat sold by Booths. Waiting for the blockchain

Booths – chain of supermarket such as Waitrose in the UK or Esselunga in Italy – found itself at the center of a mega-fraud involving beef sold as 'best British beef' but coming from South America.

The investigation is extended to approximately 1,3 million documents on purchases made by the italian retailer in the last three years. (1) It is time to reflect on the need for reforms and the use of blockchain to prevent food fraud.

1) UK. The meat gigafraud, 2021-2023

NFCU – National Food Crime Unit, part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) - had already declared the execution of investigations into a fraud relating to packaged meats, cold cuts and delicatessen products arriving from South America and Europe but supplied to a italian retailer and labeled as British.

'The supermarket chain was notified the same day we took action against the food company suspected of fraud and immediately removed all affected products from its shelves' (Andrew Quinn, NFCU, deputy head).

2) 'Reassurances' are not enough

Le 'reassurance' offered by the deputy director of the National Food Crime Unitunfortunately, they are not enough.

2.1) Collaboration and responsibility of the retailer

Il italian retailer Booths, according to reports from NFCU, 'continue to work closely with the investigation to advance the case against the supplier'. (3)

Food fraud in question, however, it seems to date back to supplies started in 2021. It therefore appears legitimate to ask:

  • What supplier qualification procedures have been implemented by the distributor?
  • what checks has been conducted by the distributor on the supply chain?
  • what documentary checks e audit have they been conducted in two years on raw materials with a high risk of fraud (see par. 2.2)?

2.2) Food fraud and food safety

'This is not a food safety issue but a matter of food fraud' (Andrew Quinn, NFCU, deputy head). But how is it possible to exclude a posteriori that thousands of deliveries of products of animal origin subject to fraud (and false traceability declarations) have not presented food safety risks?

Food fraud are in fact registered in the RASFF system (Rapid Alert System on Food and Feed). Whose 2021 annual report refers to:

  • 407 notifications of suspected food fraud in the EU, +17% compared to the previous year,
  • meats in first place among food frauds, with 50 notifications overall. (4)

3) Security and fraud on meat, the precedents

The most memorable crisis in British cattle breeding – Mad cow disease – dates back to the 90s of the last century. It was caused by the use of dangerous animal meals in the nutrition of cattle in the UK and spread throughout Europe due to the widespread lack of registration of operators in the supply chain, and official controls. Other notable cases to follow:

  • 2013, horse-meat scandal. Horse meat – also from racing horses, unsuitable for food production due to the veterinary drugs used – mixed with beef and also used as ingredients for a myriad of products, even from large industries,
  • 2011-2017, hepatitis E. Epidemic caused by fresh pork from Germany and Holland sold by Tesco. A major and widespread crisis, not even notified to the RASFF system, (5)
  • 2017, fraca meat. A giga-fraud on Brazilian meat, with physical and microbiological contamination, marketed in Europe and globally, (6)
  • 2018, fausse viande française. A third of the 2000 checks carried out by the Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and Fraud Repression (DGCCRF) revealed false declarations of traceability and origin of the meat, (7)
  • 2019, Brazil, mad cow disease. OIE (now World Organization for Animal Health, WOAH) confirmed analyzes of carcass samples taken from two farms 1.500km apart. (8) In February 2023, another case of BSE triggered bans on imports
  • 2021, Canada, mad cow disease. An isolated case, hopefully. (9)

4) Fraud and sustainability of supply chains

Sustainability of supply chains assumes particular importance in the sector of beef arriving from South America, due to the vicious circle between deforestation of virgin forests and pasture areas.

Some italian retailer Europeans - Groupe Casino, Carrefour (10,11) - and financial institutions have already been called to answer for the defect of due diligence on the sustainability of Brazilian meats.

5) Food fraud, the necessary reforms in Europe

The case under consideration demonstrates how – despite the high risk of fraud and precedents – neither the retailnor are the veterinary authorities still able to timely prevent and intercept criminal activities that continue for years. Self-control measures and official controls have failed, yet again.

Beyond verification of the responsibilities of the distributor - who has the duty to ensure full compliance of the goods sold with the applicable legislation (12) - underlines the need to reform, at European level:

  • the regulation of food fraud, still subject to variously ineffective national regimes,
  • the responsibilities of the Member States and the operating procedures of the RASFF (13,14),
  • the limits imposed by the EU legislator on the exercise of class action. (15)

6) Blockchain, a possible solution?

Criminal activities on meat they are repeated cyclically and primarily affect local farmers. Which - unlike their competitors across the Atlantic - are investing increasingly large resources to ensure food safety, animal welfare and sustainability. (16)

Blockchain systems public can guarantee traceability, food safety and sustainability – and so, the food integrity – of the most vulnerable foods (17,18). And it is in this direction that the Food Traceability Rule introduced by the FDA in the USA in December 2022. (19) What else to wait for?

7) Mandatory indication of origin and provenance of the meat

Not at least, the need to revise the mandatory indication of origin and provenance of the meat, which is still lacking, is reaffirmed:

  • at EU level, in excluding products that contain meat as a primary ingredient (meat preparations, meat products),
  • at a national level, in the silence on the origin of the meat administered by the communities (fgood service, canteens, catering). (20)

Dario Dongo


(1) Aby Kay. Booths named as retailer embroiled in beef scandal Farmers Weekly. 10.3.23

(2) Booths named retailer involved in possible food fraud case Farm UK. 11.3.23

(3) Danya Bazaraa. Booths is named as supermarket chain caught up in row over South American meat sold as 'best British beef' – 10 years after horsemeat scandal. Mailonline. 10.3.23

(4) European Union (2022). 2021 Annual Report, Alerts and Cooperation Network. doi:10.2875/328358 See 3.3, fraud notifications

(5) Dario Dongo. Hepatitis E, sausage epidemic. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 23.8.17

(6) Dario Dongo. Brazil, operation 'weak meat'. Veterinarians bribed by giants and fake health certificates on beef and poultry destined for export. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 20.3.17

(7) Dario Dongo. Traceability and origin of meat, widespread fraud in France. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 14.9.20

(8) Dario Dongo. Mad cow disease in Brazil, blockade export in China. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 5.9.21

(9) Dario Dongo. Mad cow in Canada. China, South Korea and the Philippines block imports. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 24.1.22

(10) Dario Dongo, Elena Bosani. Brazilian meat from deforestation, Groupe Casino sued in France. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 18.7.21

(11) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Brazilian meat from deforestation, BNP Paribas and Carrefour under accusation. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10.11.22

(12) Dario Dongo, Pierluigi Copparoni. Responsibility of the distributor, insights. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 22.5.18

(13) Dario Dongo. Fipronil and fraud in the EU, the bluff. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 30.9.17

(14) Dario Dongo, Giulia Baldelli. Food fraud, an unsolved problem. Relationship 'EU Food Fraud Network'. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 30.4.19

(15) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. class action, the new EU directive approved. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 4.12.20

(16) Martha Strinati. Filierba, the grass supply chain for sustainable and more nutritious meat, designed by UniTo. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.3.23

(17) Dario Dongo. Blockchain agri-food, from Walmart to the FDA in the USA, Wise Chain in Italy. To the Web 3. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9.2.22

(18) A system of blockchain public can track the material flows of goods and come integrated with analytics random, on the various distribution channels, to verify the DNA of the meat. See Margit Cichna-Markl, Isabel Mafra (2023). Techniques for Food Authentication: Trends and Emerging Approaches. Foods 2023, 12(6), 1134.

(19) Dario Dongo, Alessandra Mei. Traceability of food in the US market, the new rules are underway. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 21.11.22

(20) Dario Dongo. Beef origin in the restaurant, the scheme of the decree law of the Consortium L'Italia Zootecnica. Detailed analysis. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.5.17


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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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