EU legislation does not provide a definition of “fraud” in the agri-food chain.
Commission Regulation (EU) 2019/1715 defines a ‘fraud notification’ in iRASFF and thus, indicates the key elements to be considered. In this regard, agri-food fraud is “a non-compliance concerning any suspected intentional action by businesses or individuals, for the purpose of deceiving purchasers and gaining undue advantage therefrom, in violation of the rules referred to in Article 1(2) of Regulation (EU) 2017/625”.
Considering that Article 1(2) extends the scope of official controls to the entire agri-food chain, this definition applies beyond fraud related to food and so also covers other categories of products such as plant health, animal health and feed.
Four key operative criteria are referred to for distinguishing whether a case should be considered a "non-compliance" or "suspicion of fraud" – for that, all four criteria have to be met.
These conditions correspond to the rules currently in place in the Member States to report fraud:
Violation of EU rules: A violation of one or more rules laid out in the EU agri-food chain legislation as referred to in Article 1(2) of Regulation (EU) 2017/625.
Deception of customers: Some form of deception of the customers/consumers (for example: altered colouring or altered labels, which hide the true quality or, in worse cases, even the nature of a product). Moreover, the deceptive element may also come as a public health risk as some of the real properties of the product are hidden (for example, in the case of undeclared allergens).
Undue advantage: the fraudulent act brings some form of direct or indirect economic advantage for the perpetrator.
Intention: Verified when a number of factors give strong grounds to show that certain non-compliances are not accidental, such as the intentional substitution of a high quality ingredient with a lower quality one, rather than an accidental contamination due to the production process.
Fraud affects businesses and consumers. The consequences are mainly financial, particularly when the fraud is related to quality. However, these intentional infringements of the EU agri-food chain legislation may hinder the functioning of the EU Single Market and may also constitute a risk to human, animal or plant health, to animal welfare or to the environment. Fraudulent practices can happen at any stage of production, processing and trade and the purchaser that is the victim can be the final consumer as well as a business operator.
Guidance on fighting fraudulent and deceptive practices in the agri-food chain
The Commission decided to organise a project to collect information on potential fraud risks identified by Member State authorities and control methods to detect fraudulent and deceptive practices in the agri-food chain. Between 2020 and 2022 a series of pilot and fact-finding studies of eight Member States were carried out with the aim to identify good practice examples and challenges Member State authorities face with the implementation of fraud related controls. The results of these fact-finding studies form the basis of this report.
The technical report presents challenges, opportunities and good practice examples in relation to the implementation of Article 9(2) of Regulation (EU) 2017/625. Competent authorities of the Member States are required to not only detect violations of the rules governing the agri-food chain but also to identify possible intentional violations of those rules, perpetrated through fraudulent or deceptive practices by operators for the purpose of gaining an undue advantage.
The purpose of this technical report therefore is to promote the uniform interpretation and application of the provisions of Article 9(2) of Regulation (EU) 2017/625.