Wine fraud in the UK has been grossly underestimated because of the way the sector is structured, claimed the food safety expert, who did not want to be named.
Big wine companies were not placing enough emphasis on preventing fraud and, as a result, crooks were cashing in on the opportunity, he said.
“Wine industry fraud is a massive area and we’re learning more and more about it,” said the source. “But the industry needs to do more and work more closely with the government to have a positive effect on it.”
His comments followed press reports last month that the Food Standards Agency’s new £2M Food Crime Unit (FCU), which was set up in response to last year’s horsemeat scandal, would target the emerging trade in fake wine as one of its first investigations.
However, David Richardson, regulatory and commercial affairs manager for the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) refuted that the sector had been inactive in trying to reduce fraud. He argued that wine businesses had been working with governments in various countries for some time to prevent fraudsters passing off fakes as more expensive real products.
More than 1bn litres of wine is consumed in the UK each year and some estimates have suggested that as much as 20% could be either fake or illegally imported.
Damages the market
“Fraud damages the whole of the market and consumers will take a look at a product they’ve had bad experiences with before and think it’s cheap and not buy it again,” said Richardson. A common practice is for fraudsters to target expensive, top-end wines, substituting cheaper products but using good-quality replica labels and bottles to fool retailers and consumers, he said.
“But others are making a lot of money from lower-priced wines too, by illegally importing them and not paying duty on them,” he added. As illegal imports grew, the UK’s Treasury was losing out on an estimated £1bn a year through unpaid tarrifs, he said.