An investigation into the sale of unregistered meat on social media was recently carried out by the State’s food safety body which said it is increasingly seeing suspected cases of food fraud.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland , which is responsible for enforcing food law, conducted 34 food investigations last year, up from 21 in 2014 while there has been 20 investigations so far this year.
Dr Pamela Byrne, chief executive of the FSAI said food fraud is committed when food is illegally placed on the market “to deceive the customer as to its content or provenance for financial gain”.
“The more we know about food crime, the motivation behind it, the potential threat it poses to our €26 billion food and drink manufacturing industry, the more we can develop expert and intelligence-based approaches to focus investigations on the highest risk areas,” she said.
“This has to be a strategic and a collaborative approach that doesn’t look at singular foods, but rather at the wider picture.”
Dr Byrne was speaking at an international conference on the challenges facing the safety, integrity and authenticity of the global food chain at Dublin Castle on Thursday.
She said a recent investigation centred around the sale of meat on social media through unregistered sources.
“We are seeing an increase in the sale of all types of products through the online sales channels and our message is to consumers and anybody who’s buying from those channels is to be careful and be cautious about what it is you’re buying,” she said.
“If it’s cheap then the chances are that there’s probably something wrong with it.”
Dr Byrne said other foods being sold online illegally included fish and food supplements.
“We have a working group set up now to be able to look more carefully at what is being sold online and how we can take the appropriate action in order to remove the risk to consumers,” she added.
Peter Whelan, director of audit and investigations at the FSAI said food products being illegally sold through social media is “a big area for us to look at”.
“We have gotten in touch with a lot of agencies, Amazon, Ebay, they’ve been very co-operative and we have link-in points with them now when we see this,” he said.
Food fraud investigations in Europe have also risen with the European Commission’s Food Fraud Network dealing with 156 cases last year, up from 108 in 2015 and 60 in 2014.
Dr Byrne said the FSAI is currently working with the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland in relation to Brexit.
“We’re also working at a heads of agency level within Europe to make sure that we are leveraging the activities of the other countries also within Europe in order to help us to come to a solution around how we might deal with Brexit,” she said.
“I think there will be challenges absolutely, without doubt, but we don’t yet know where those challenges will be. We hope the UK will maintain the high standards of food safety and hygiene that they have in place that are required under EU legislation.”
Ray Dolan,chief executive of Safefood said the UK’s decision to leave the EU “poses many wide-ranging issues for consumers when it comes to our food authenticity and traceability”.
The conference continues at Dublin Castle on Friday with speakers including Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development and Mairead McGuinness MEP.