Individuals or pressure groups may threaten to poison food products, and may in fact actually introduce poisoned products on the market, in an attempt to extort money from or force specific action on the part of food producers, in particular multi-national companies. Such threats cause wide-scale public panic; in the case of actually poisoning, consumers have just cause to fear serious injury, illness, or even death. The food producers suffer from the resulting lack of confidence in their products, and sales may be negatively affected for years.
In the UK in 1989 some 2,000 cases of product extortion were reported, up from 683 in 1987 and 725 in 1988. In Japan in 1996, a man threatened to infect milk with E. coli unless paid $1 million.
In Germany in 1992 and 1993 department stores and supermarket chains received letters threatening damage to the stores and products if blackmail was not paid. Although the blackmail attempts were foiled, the costs resulting from the threat amounted to DM 9 million; police expenditure on the unsuccessful resolution of the case was estimated at DM 30 million. Similar threats caused further public concern and high costs in 1997.