Our principal consultant, Karen Constable, spoke at the World of Food Safety Conference in Bangkok in June 2017 about trends and developments in food fraud. Here are some of the highlights of her presentation.
Emerging trends in fraudulent activities
Recently, we have been seeing more sophisticated operations being discovered. As an example, a large operation that was making counterfeit versions of popular brands of sauces and condiments was discovered in China in January of 2017. The operation was being conducted in a residential area, with processes spread across 50 buildings. The operation was said to have been active for over ten years and was producing goods worth around $14.5 million per year.
Halal fraud appears to be on the rise, with developing countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia at high risk. Halal meat is often indistinguishable from its non-halal counterpart which means that everyday consumers are not able to verify food sellers’ claims about halal status. Falsely claiming halal for a food item is an easy fraud to perpetrate, especially during the retail sale of un-packaged food in restaurants and takeaway stores. Halal fraud can be as sophisticated as forgery of certification documents accompanying bulk shipments of food or as simple as dishonest signage in a takeaway store. There have been a number of incidences of halal fraud in the news lately and these are almost certainly the tip of the iceberg. Indonesia and Malaysia are some of the world’s biggest markets for halal food. Both countries have variable and sometimes chaotic food supply chains accompanied by uneven regulatory enforcement. Halal forgery also happens in the developed world, with a recent prosecution in the United Kingdom in which the fraudster is alleged to have netted a quarter of a million pounds. With this kind of money up for grabs, you can expect halal fraud to continue.
Counterfeiting of middle range foods, rather than luxury foods is another emerging trend. Most well-known examples of food counterfeiting in past years have been linked to premium brands and luxury goods such as expensive wines, whiskys, truffles, saffron and caviar. However there are increasing reports of mid-range goods being ‘faked’, with condiments, sauces, chocolate bars and beverage mixes all having been fraudulently counterfeited in recent times.
Are these new types of food crime? It’s unlikely. However our awareness and our detection activities are increasing. It also appears that there are more whistle-blowing activities; it is possible that more people are willing to report on suspicious activities, as was the case with the aforementioned Chinese condiment operation, or perhaps authorities are more likely to act upon reports, as was the case with the recently uncovered Brazilian meat scandal.
New responses to food fraud
Prosecutions, fines and other enforcement activities are increasing in some countries. India, in particular, is investing heavily in new laboratories and extra resources in the fight against food fraud. The Indian press writes about food fraud on an almost daily basis and consumer awareness is at an all time high. India is also considering enforcing a life-long prison sentence for perpetrators of food adulteration. Fines of more than $3 billion have been proposed for one of the businesses at the centre of the Brazil meat scandal. That’s quite a fine!
Europe has also discussed increased sanctions for food fraud, with the hope of harmonising the sanctions across the European Union.
Operation Opson, the annual food fraud operation of Interpol and Europol, which this year netted EUR 230 million worth of seized foods, will be extending its reach beyond Europe in coming years.
Anti-counterfeiting technology continues to be developed, expanded and improved at a fast rate. The big news in the previous 12 months in this area is the implementation of block-chain technology into the management of supply chain traceability. Walmart are using block-chain technology for pork and baby formula in China, while Blackmores Australia is using it to protect their brand in Asia.
Updates to food safety standards
Food fraud prevention and mitigation measures are being introduced into all major food safety management systems. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a group of food companies whose mission is to harmonize, strengthen, and improve food safety management systems around the globe, sets guidance for food safety standards. Well known GFSI standards for food manufacturing include BRC, FSSC 22000 and SQF. Starting in 2016, all GFSI food safety standards have been progressively updated to include requirements for food companies to perform a food fraud vulnerability assessment and create control plans for food fraud. Issue 7 of the BRC standard and version 4 of FSSC 22000 already incorporate these requirements. SQF Edition 8 has been published and will be implemented from January 2018.
All GFSI-endorsed food safety standards and many standards that are not endorsed, such AIB and Woolworths Australia’s VQA standard will require or already require food fraud vulnerability assessments and food fraud mitigation plans to be implemented by food manufacturers.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the USA includes specific requirements which are aimed at preventing public health hazars from malicious tampering as well as fraudulent adulteration. Hazards to food safety from intentionally adulterated food must be included in the preventive controls hazard analyses under FSMA. The rules associated with the FSMA are being progressively introduced in the USA. They will also apply to food businesses that export to America.
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