WASHINGTON, DC — March 17, 2005 — To protect consumers from unsafe and counterfeit foods, drugs and other products stolen and fenced by organized retail theft gangs, legislation is needed to make this crime a federal felony, according to testimony today by Food Marketing Institute (FMI) member Chris Nelson of the Target Corporation before the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee.

Nelson, who serves as Target’s director of asset protection, testified on behalf of the 22-member Coalition Against Organized Retail Theft, which FMI chairs.

Organized shoplifters steal $30 billion in products a year, according to the FBI. “Most importantly and most disturbing,” Nelson testified, “is the fact that this type of criminal activity can put consumer health and safety at risk.”

He cited the examples of infant formula and over-the-counter drugs, which are commonly stolen by shoplifting rings. “Pilfered products may not be kept under ideal or required storage conditions, which can threaten the product’s integrity.

“And oftentimes, these organized thieves will repackage and change the labels of stolen products to falsely extend their expiration dates,” Nelson testified. The items are then resold through flea markets, over the Internet and elsewhere past their expiration dates, threatening consumer health and safety.

Due to the absence of a statute that clearly identifies organized retail theft as a federal felony, he said, these criminals are usually prosecuted under state shoplifting laws that treat such crimes as misdemeanors, which results in probation or little jail time.

For a copy of the testimony, please visit http://www.fmi.org/gr/testimony/report.cfm?issueID=877