Food & Drink Sector Update – September

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The Fipronil egg scandal is threatening to become more serious and widespread than previously thought, with eight new recalls announced in the UK recently. The FSA are now recalling all products with 15% or more of the final product containing the implicated eggs.

Fipronil is an insecticide, commonly used in flea and mite treatments for pets. It is not approved for use on animals meant for consumption, as it can be toxic if consumed in large doses.

It is alleged that the inclusion of Fipronil in the treatments used on farms was a way to rid livestock of red mites at a cheaper cost than approved insecticides.While contaminated eggs have made their way to the UK, it is much less at risk than that of mainland Europe, where the contamination originated. The UK produces 85% of the eggs that are sold and there is no evidence that this supply has been affected.

Whilst action is currently being taken, it is important to note that the risk to the public is very small and that the recalling of products is largely due to Fipronil being an unapproved substance.

Food Fraud

With an estimated global value of $40bn, food fraud remains an enormous threat to the food and drink industry.

How can food and drink be fraudulent?

Food and drink can be fraudulent when a product does not contain what it purports to or when it is contaminated with an outside product, such as illegal pesticides, for the purposes of personal gain.

Identifying the Fraud

Food fraud can be extremely difficult to identify. Due to the many number of ways in which a product can either be counterfeited, contaminated or deliberately mislabelled, it poses a challenge for proper safety measures to be implemented and carried out. A well-known example of this is the horsemeat scandal. It could have remained undetected for quite some time as DNA from other animal sources being present was not a routine test and was only discovered as part of a targeted study by the Food Standards Agency of Ireland to test the authenticity of meat products.

What is being done to help tackle this?

The National Food Crime Unit (“NFCU”) is an arm of the Food Standards Agency responsible for the investigation of food crimes and fraud in the UK.

The NFCU was borne out of an increasing necessity to prevent, monitor and act in relation to food fraud and crime. The unit works closely with Police and businesses to identify possible threats and current crimes before reporting them to law enforcement. They operate a whistle-blower line where people can report suspicions or knowledge of food fraud taking place.

A study conducted in late 2016 has recommended that the NFCU should have stronger investigatory powers, have the prevention of food crime as part of its remit and be able to set standards and training in relation to food fraud.

Cyber Attacks

In May 2017, ransomware WannaCry began infecting thousands on computers worldwide and within a day had infected the NHS and large companies, such as FedEx.

Holding large amounts of consumer data and intellectual property, the food and drink industry can be particularly at risk.What is Ransomware?Ransomware works by finding an encrypted specific data files before displaying a “ransom note” which prevents the user from accessing their data. Such notes will often be disguised as a demand from an authority, such as the Government or the Police, that the user must pay a set amount of money or risk serious consequences.

What made this attack different?

As a ransomware, WannaCry had a specific advantage – the network infection vector EternalBlue and the backdoor tool DoublePulsar after they were released by a hacking group in April 2017.EternalBlue exploits a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows Server Message Block, which is mainly used for providing shared access and miscellaneous communications between networks.

What made WannaCry the crisis that it turned out to be was that, in spite of Microsoft releasing patches and repairs for these specific vulnerabilities on newer Operating Systems, there are many places and people, the NHS included, that are running outdated systems that are not routinely updated and are much more susceptible to attack.

What can I do to prevent them?

No one is completely protected from cybercrime, but there are effective ways to minimise the risk.

The first, and perhaps most important, is to keep all systems that have an internet connection up to date by installing all of the latest patches available and installing the most recent Operating Systems released.

Secondly, equip all of your company or personal devices with robust anti-viral software that detects all levels of threat and is frequently updated. There are many available to choose from.

Last, but not least, is simply vigilance. Does the email that you have received look suspicious in any way, and is it truly from the sender it purports to be from? If you are unsure in any way, contact the purported sender or someone from your IT team to be sure. Do not download any link without being completely certain of what it contains first.


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