UN Agency Emphasizes Need to Combat Corruption in the Food Industry

by Ella

Corruption poses a significant threat at every stage of the food supply chain, warns a recent analysis by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The UNODC report sheds light on potential risks along the supply chain and explores strategies for mitigating them. It underscores how corruption can erode trust in governments, weaken control systems, and jeopardize trade relationships.

Corrupt practices within the food sector range from high-level decision-making favoring economic interests over public health to petty bribes paid to inspectors to issue fraudulent food hygiene certificates. These actions can create a false impression of food safety and control system efficacy.


One illustrative example in the report involves a restaurant owner bribing a food inspector to overlook hygiene violations and award a top safety rating. However, this may lead to foodborne illnesses among customers, undermining the credibility of the rating system. On a larger scale, powerful multinational companies may influence policymakers to raise the allowable levels of harmful pesticides in crops, contributing to health issues and antimicrobial resistance among consumers.


The report cites real-world cases such as the 2008 melamine-contaminated milk powder scandal in China and Brazil’s Operation Carne Fraca in 2017, which uncovered bribery of meat hygiene inspectors.


Corruption can lead law enforcement officials to turn a blind eye to illicit operations, distort competition through bribes, deter inspections and result reporting, or induce customs officers to allow unsafe foods to pass border checks. It can also enable unscrupulous actors to circumvent safety measures and control systems meant to protect the public, increasing the risk of foodborne diseases and adulteration.


The complexity of food safety responsibilities, often shared among different agencies with overlapping mandates, further contributes to corruption vulnerability, as seen in the 2013 horse meat scandal.

Mitigating these risks is essential to safeguard public health, trade relations, the environment, and consumer interests, while also building trust in governments. Preventive measures, including corruption risk assessment, transparency promotion, and control strengthening, can help combat corruption in the food sector.

The report calls on policymakers, national authorities, and key industry stakeholders to take a leading role in addressing this issue. Additionally, further research into the global food supply’s vulnerability to corruption is encouraged.



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