Tag Archives: adulteration

Anthony Macherone, Agilent
FST Soapbox

The Link Between Exposure to Xenobiotic Pesticides and Declining Honeybee Colonies and Honey

By Anthony Macherone, Ph.D.
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Anthony Macherone, Agilent

According to data from the Bee Informed Partnership, a national collaboration of leading research labs and universities in agricultural science, managed honeybee populations declined by nearly 40% between Oct. 1, 2018 and April 1, 2019. This is a 7% greater decline compared to the same timeframe during the previous winter.1

Scientists are examining different environmental factors such as the increased use of pesticides and the use of chemicals in agriculture as causes for the rapid decline in global honeybee numbers.

Recent research conducted by my team and I revealed a potentially key reason for the decline in honeybee populations as a result of Nosema ceranae (N. ceranae), a prevalent infection in adult honeybee populations. My team established a link between N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies and changes in pheromone levels, which in turn, may have a social impact on communication in honeybee colonies.

Moreover, the significant decline in the global honeybee population is likely to be driving an increase in fraudulent honey, meaning that both governments and regulators need to invest in the latest technology to test honey products for authenticity, nutritional values and safety.

The Significance of Honey in Our Global Diet and the Problem at Hand

Honey has been a part of our diet for the past 8,000 years, and with numerous health benefits in addition to having a favorable taste, it is one of the most popular foods across the globe.2

Honeybees produce honey from the nectar of flowering plants, and they are considered a “keystone species” since one-third of human food supply depends on pollination by honeybees.3The species is responsible for pollinating numerous fruit, nut, vegetable and field crops such as apples, almonds, onions and cotton.

The increase of pesticides and chemicals in the environment has been cited as a reason for the decline in bee populations, which has occurred in Western European countries such as France, Belgium, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands, as well as countries such as the United States, Russia and Brazil.4 In fact, the number of honeybee colonies in Europe fell by an average of 16 per cent over the winter of 2017–2018, according to findings published in the Journal of Apiculture Research.5

Global pesticide usage was predicted to increase to 3.5 million tons globally in 2020, which could mean that honeybee populations will continue to diminish at an exponential rate due to the increased use of pesticides.6

The Impact of Pesticides on Global Honeybee Populations

In 2019, a research project was initiated to explore the link between exposure to xenobiotic pesticides and increasing susceptibility to the N. ceranae infection in honeybee colonies, one of the most common infections in adult honeybee populations. The findings suggested that it is not the amount of pesticide exposure, nor a particular kind of pesticide exposure, but rather the number of exposure events from different xenobiotics that is associated with N. ceranae, which infected hives, thereby causing them to diminish.7

For discovery-based (non-targeted) exposome profiling of honeybee extracts, a gas chromatography/quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer (GC/Q-TOF) was used. Additionally, spectral library searches and compound annotation were performed using the NIST 14, RTL Pesticides and the Fiehn Metabolomics libraries to provide efficient and timely research outputs.8

Expanding on this research further in 2021, a scientist’s team established a link between N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies and changes in pheromone levels, which showed a potential impact on social communication in honeybee colonies. While it was concluded that further analysis is required, as research points to the real possibility that N. ceranae-infected honeybee colonies show increased alarm pheromones and may affect hive communication, which could ultimately, be a reason for the collapse of colonies.9

As N. ceranae is causing honeybee populations to dwindle worldwide, the decline in ‘real’ honey supplies is correspondent with an increase in ‘fake’ honey. Inauthentic honey products cause businesses and consumers to lose out, as ‘fake’ honey floods the market and makes producing ‘real’ honey more expensive.

Growth in Fake Honey

The global honey market has grown from 1.5 million tons produced annually in 2007 to more than 1.9 million tons in 2019 and the market is estimated to be worth $7 billion, however the decline in bee populations has led to an increase in honey adulteration to fill the global demand for honey.10

Declining supplies of authentic honey combined with the strong consumer demand for honey has driven significant adulteration of this product. Honey is considered to be one of the most adulterated foods after milk and olive oil, with every seventh jar of honey opened daily around the globe thought to be fake.11, 12 Consequently, legitimate honeybee keepers and business owners are forced to slash costs, which is problematic for those who depend on selling authentic honey.

To put into perspective the scale of the issue, the European agricultural organization, Copa-Cogeca noted that most honey imported from China into Europe is mixed with syrup.13 In 2018, the Honey Authenticity Project in Mexico commissioned tests for British supermarket honey products, and 10 out of 11 products failed the tests due to suspected sugar adulteration.14

While in the United States, it was recently reported that thousands of commercial beekeepers have taken legal action against the country’s largest honey importers and packers for allegedly flooding the market with hundreds of thousands of tons of “fake” honey.15 Furthermore, a recent workshop led by the South Africa Bee Industry Organization (SABIO) also conducted research on the impact of fraudulent honey, and the organization found that honey imports into South Africa have tripled to 6,000 tons a year, 60% of which come from China.16 As the demand for honey products stays robust but authentic honey supplies dwindle, the issue of counterfeit honey will continue to worsen.

Testing Methods to Identify Authentication

The issue of fraudulent food products like honey has driven governments to set up laws and departments dedicated to food integrity. Examples include FSMA, the UK National Food Crime Unit, Chinese Food Safety Law, and European Commission Food Integrity Project.

Food retailers often have contractual agreements with suppliers that require them to carry out authenticity testing of their ingredients, which can be carried out by third-party laboratories.17 Food adulteration can be identified via targeted and non-targeted testing and common testing methods include molecular spectroscopy solutions for ‘in the field’ screening and more in-depth laboratory analysis to determine quantities of ingredients.

Analytical instrument manufacturers have been working closely with governments to provide the latest methods to test the authenticity of honey products, as well as working with the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC) on the development of both targeted and non-targeted standards for authenticity testing in milk, honey and olive oil.
Measuring contaminants is a key solution to identifying counterfeit honey and gas chromatographs are able to analyze and quantify the absence or presence of hundreds of pesticides in organic-labeled honey.18

Testing and analysis can be done using a range of analytical instrumentation such as solid phase microextraction followed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (SPME-GC/MS), inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), and gas/liquid chromatography/quadrupole time-of-flight (GC/Q-TOF and LC/Q-TOF). These instruments can be coupled with innovative software solutions for advanced data analysis.19

Future Research Must Continue

The spread of diseases such as N. ceranae, which have been shown to be aggravated by human-induced environmental factors, are decimating global honeybee populations, which in turn is negatively impacting ecosystems and humans, and the availability of authentic honey. This demise in authentic honey supplies is additionally fueling a rise in fake honey products, where consumers are misled into buying counterfeit honey.

Future research must continue to seek associations with environmental exposures effects on biological pathways and adverse health outcomes in honeybee populations, and in fact, novel environmental exposures have been found to be associated with seven of the top diseases known to affect honeybees. These putative associations must be validated with targeted follow-up studies to determine if they are causative factors in the decline of honeybee populations. If proven to be causative, scientists and policy makers can work together to mitigate these factors and hopefully reverse the global trend of honeybee colony decline.

References

  1. Loss & Management Survey, Bee Informed. Last accessed: June 2021
  2. Agilent.‘The Buzz around Fake Honey’. 2018. Last accessed: June 2021
  3. University of California – Berkeley. ‘Pollinators Help One-third Of The World’s Food Crop Production’. 2006. Last accessed: June 2021
  4. European Parliament. ‘What’s behind the decline in bees and other pollinators?’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  5. Journal of Apiculture Research. ‘Loss rates of honeybee colonies during winter 2017/18 in 36 countries participating in the COLOSS survey, including effects of forage sources’. 2019. Last accessed: June 2021
  6. SN Applied Sciences. ‘Worldwide pesticide usage and its impacts on ecosystem’. 2019. Last accessed: June 2021
  7. PLOS ONE. ‘Honey bee (Apis mellifera) exposomes and dysregulated metabolic pathways associated with Nosema ceranae infection’. 2019. Last accessed: June 2021
  8. PLOS ONE. ‘Honey bee (Apis mellifera) exposomes and dysregulated metabolic pathways associated with Nosema ceranae infection’. 2019. Last accessed: June 2021.
  9. Royal Society Open Science. ‘Increased alarm pheromone component is associated with Nosema ceranae infected honeybee colonies’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  10. Statista. ‘Global market value of honey 2019-2027’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  11. Insider.com. ‘Honey is one of the most faked foods in the world, and the US government isn’t doing much to fix it.’ 2020. Last accessed: June 2021
  12. Dow Jones. ‘Hi honey. I’m not from home.’ Last accessed: June 2021
  13. Apiservices.biz. ‘Copa-Cogeca Position Paper on the European Honey Market.’ February 2020. Available at: Copa-Cogeca position paper on the European honey market (apiservices.biz)
  14.  WIRED. ‘The honey detectives are closing in on China’s shady syrup swindlers’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  15.  The Guardian. ‘US beekeepers sue over imports of Asian fake honey’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021
  16.  Times Live. ‘Falsely labelled, mixed with syrup or ‘laundered’: Honey fraud is rife in SA’. 2021. Last accessed: June 2021.
  17.  UK Parliament Post. Postnote, number 624. ‘Food Fraud’. Last accessed: June 2021
  18. Agilent. ‘The Health Benefits of Honey’. 2017. Last accessed: June 2021
  19. Agilent. ‘Protecting our honey against food adulteration’. Last accessed: June 2021.

 

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Why Is Honey Fraud Such a Problem?

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D., Gina Clapper, Norberto Luis Garcia
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

Honey is a deceptively simple product. According to Codex Alimentarius, it is the “natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in the honey comb to ripen and mature.” The result of this extensive process is a substance that consists primarily of fructose and glucose and, therefore, is prone to adulteration with sugars from other sources. Unlike sugars from other sources, honey contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and other micronutrients, which makes it uniquely valuable.1

Honey is much more expensive to produce than other sugar syrups, particularly those from plants such as corn, rice, sugarcane and sugar beets. As a result, there is a strong economic advantage for replacement of honey with other sugar syrups. Honey consistently rates as one of the top five fraudulent food products based on public sources of data (see Figure 1).

Food Fraud Records
Source: Decernis Food Fraud Database

Testing to ensure honey authenticity is not always straightforward.2 Traditionally, analytical methods could detect C4 sugars (from corn or sugarcane) but not C3 sugars (from rice, wheat or sugar beets). Testing methods have evolved, but there are still many challenges inherent in authenticating a sample of a product labeled as “honey.” One promising area of authentication is based on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which is a method that can identify and quantify a large number of substances in a sample. Instead of trying to detect one particular adulterant, this method allows comparison of the results of a sample to a range of verified honey samples for authentication (similar to “fingerprinting”). This makes it a flexible and more powerful method for authentication. However, one of the current challenges with NMR is that large databases of verified results must be built to enable effective fingerprinting of any single honey sample. Given the variety of botanical sources of nectar, geographic locations of honey productions, and various other natural factors, this is a large task.

USP FCC, along with their global network of scientific experts, has two ongoing projects related to honey authenticity. The first is development of a honey identity standard. The purpose of the standard is to provide a set of specifications and methods that can be used to help ensure a product—particularly one with natural variability, such as a juice, cold-pressed oil or honey—is accurately and appropriately represented. The standard is voluntary and intended for use in business-to-business relationships (it is not regulatory in nature). It is flexible enough to allow for the natural variability of the product. The FCC honey standard was posted and available for public comment last year and is anticipated to be published in the Food Chemicals Codex in September 2021. The USP Honey Expert Panel is also developing a food fraud mitigation guidance document specific to honey. The guidance will include a detailed description of the various contributing factors to honey fraud and guidance on developing a fraud mitigation plan specific to honey. It is planned for inclusion in the FCC Forum in 2022.

Honey is incredibly popular as a food and food ingredient, and honeybees are a critical resource for agriculture and ecological health. Therefore, prevention of honey fraud is a particularly important issue for both the food industry and consumers.

References

  1. Ajibola, A., et al. (June 20, 2012). “Nutraceutical values of natural honey and its contribution to human health and wealth”. Nutr Metab.
  2. Garcia, N. and Schwarzinger, S. (2021). “Food Fraud: A Global Threat With Public Health and Economic Consequences”. Chapter 15 – Honey Fraud. P. 309-334.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Don’t Open That Sesame

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis

Sesame oil is a popular edible oil in China, with fraudulent sesame oil on the rise. The Chinese government released new guidelines to protect consumers from sesame oil fraud. Consumers are strongly advised to carefully check the nutrition label, purchase from reliable sources and not from unauthorized small vendors, be cautious when purchasing sesame oil online, and investigate the oil’s properties such as color and smell.

Sesame plant
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Resource

  1. Neo, P. (August 23, 2021) “Food oil fraud: China issues warning about adulterated and blended sesame oils”. Food Navigator-Asia.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Arrest These Truffatori Di Bevande!

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Wine fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Italian law enforcement keeps cracking down on fraudulent and illegal activities, like in this latest case of fake alcoholic beverage distribution and sales. About 5,500 bottles were seized and samples were investigated in the lab, revealing substances unfit for human consumption, and endangering human health. The fraudulent products displayed labels of well-known alcoholic beverage brands.

Resource

  1. Redazione. (June 25, 2021). “Bevande alcoliche con sostanze pericolose: sequestrate 5500 bottiglie a Cerignola, a rischio l’incolumità delle personeFoggia Today.

 

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

A Sad Event With A Devastating Ending

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Rice field, Cambodia
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Adulterated rice wine served at a funeral is suspected to have caused the hospitalization of 76 and the death of eight people in the Pursat Province of Cambodia. The cause of the poisoning is still under investigation by local authorities. Samples of the suspected rice wine and other beverages are being analyzed in a lab. This year, adulterated rice wine was responsible for a multitude of deaths in several Cambodian provinces.

Resource

  1. Chanvireak, M. (June 3, 2021). “8 dead and 76 in hospital for suspected rice wine poisoning”. Khmer Times.
Tyson Foods, Chicken Recall, Listeria

Tyson Foods Recalls More Than 8 Million Pounds of RTE Chicken Due to Potential Listeria Contamination

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Tyson Foods, Chicken Recall, Listeria
Tyson Foods, Chicken Recall, Listeria
One of the recalled RTE chicken products from Tyson Foods. Labels of recalled products are available on the FSIS website.

Tyson Foods, Inc. is recalling 8,492,832 pounds of ready-to-eat (RTE) chicken products over concerns that the product may be adulterated with Listeria monocytogenes. The Class I recall affects frozen, fully cooked chicken products that were produced between December 26, 2020 and April 13, 2021, and shipped nationwide to retailers and facilities that include hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, schools and Department of Defense locations. The recalled products bear establishment number “EST. P-7089” on the product bag or inside the USDA mark of inspection.

Thus far three people have been sickened with Listeriosis, and one death has been reported, according to the CDC investigation.

The FSIS website lists all products affected by the recall—which includes diced chicken, frozen, fully cooked chicken strips, diced chicken, chicken used for fajitas chicken wing sections, and pizza with fully cooked chicken.

The CDC is advising that businesses do not serve or sell recalled products, and that any refrigerators, containers or surfaces that may have touched the recalled products be thoroughly cleaned.

Nathan Libbey, PathogenDx
FST Soapbox

On the Eve of 115 Years of Food Regulation in the United States

By Nathan Libbey
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Nathan Libbey, PathogenDx

As we look back on the history of food safety in the United States, it is easy to take pride in how far we have come—from disparate, state-specific food laws with no interstate oversight, to highly codified regulations such as FSMA, food and consumer safety has evolved a great deal since the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in June of 1906. However, despite our advancements, we see evidence of significant gaps that currently exist and must be addressed to improve safety and save lives moving forward, no different than what occurred in the time leading up to the initial Act.

The 1906 Act

Revisionist history will tell us that the consumers’ outcry due to the publication of Sinclair’s The Jungle, coupled with Roosevelt’s disgust after reading the novel, is what ultimately led to the passage of the Act. What has not changed in 115 years is that one book does not yield the power to force the hand of what is largely a deadlocked U.S. Legislature. What moves us from an emotional standpoint often does not translate into real change, and the Pure Food and Drug Act was no exception.

By many accounts the largest proponent of the Act, sometimes referred to as the Wiley Act, was Harvey Wiley, son of an Indiana preacher and former professor at Purdue University. Wiley spent much of his time at Purdue studying the chemistry of sugar and was particularly interested in sugar and other foods’ adulteration. He took on the burden of challenging the food system and improving the safety of consumer products. Wiley is known for his work on “The Poison Squad,” but also was a budding food safety poet:

“We cannot help asking “What’s in it? Oh, maybe this bread contains alum and chalk, Or sawdust chopped up very fine, Or gypsum in powder about which they talk”.1

Despite Wiley’s significant studies and subsequent passion for food safety that he brought to the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry, little was done to advance the status of food safety in the United States. Many bills were attempted, but like today, a bill introduced and backed with fervor in the House did not reach a meaningful Senate vote and vice versa—politics was politics. When McKinley was shot and subsequently died, leaving Theodore Roosevelt to take the helm, Wiley caught the break he needed. Roosevelt had been convinced he had been a victim of the “Embalmed Beef Scandal” while serving in the Spanish American War and had a rather progressive agenda that fit well with Wiley’s evangelization of food safety.2

Flash forward to 1906, Sinclair’s book is published, everyone loses it on the atrocities that exist in food production, including the President. We romanticize that this led to the passing of the Act and future development of what was to become the Food and Drug Administration. In addition to the Act, companion legislation, The Meat Inspection Act of 1906 that would later give rise to the FSIS, was also on the docket for 1906, signaling imminent changes for meat producers. Sure, a role was played by the tale of Jurgis and Elzbieta (the main characters in The Jungle), but more than 25 years of reports and proposed reforms are what lead to significant legislation, and this is the case with the Pure Food and Drug Act—1906 was just the year it all came together.

At the same time, industry had come around. While they had vehemently opposed to earlier iterations of what was deemed over-regulation, they had come to grips with the reality—change was necessary. What their stalling of the bills did, as it does for industries of all makes and models today, is buy them time to adjust. Changes, such as replacing flour laced with sawdust with the real thing, takes changes in processes, personnel, and ultimately money. The industry needed to plan financially prior to enacting and, more importantly, embracing changes. Unlike FSMA, which was rolled out in phases over a decade, early legislation was far less comprehensive and did not account for the impact on firms of various sizes.

Implications for Today

Back to the original points, look how far we have come. Sure, the political landscape is seemingly murky, but it has been for centuries. What binds us all together, and ultimately moves us forward is our collective effort toward continuous improvement. In the spirit of Harvey Wiley, we strive to move forward as lawmakers, food producers and consumers. An unhealthy consumer is indeed bad for business for us all. As was stated during the arguments in the Senate in 1906 by Senator Porter McCumber:

“We are coming more and more to understand that our health depends more upon the character of food we consume than upon the medicines that are given to allay and destroy disease. We are coming more and more to understand that a proper diet varied to meet the conditions of each individual is not only the greatest panacea for but also the greatest preventitive [sic] against the evils with which humanity seems to be afflicted.”3

Quotes like this should give us direction—it has been and will be the backdrop of our cause for food safety and overt disease prevention. The same mantras from 1906 that guided our first piece of food safety legislation are still relevant; we need profound, driven, bold thinkers today just as we did then.

What also remains is the fact that we are still largely siloed, we have macro-level deficiencies as a result of our micro-level programs. An example of our delay, that is the public need is outpacing our industry standards, is our unwillingness to share food safety data. Traceability initiatives and FDA guidance are moving this forward, but the implications will not be felt overnight, just as Sinclair’s book did not change policy overnight. Another area where our lack of system and big-picture thinking impacts our consumers negatively is with the myriad versions, some dating back to 2000 (MS-DOS, anyone?), of Food Code that are adopted by our individual States for retail and foodservice settings. Lastly, the existence of food desserts and larger issue of food insecurity is a macro issue that we deal with (or ignore) on a micro level.

As it was during the stalemate legislative sessions around the turn of the 20th century, it takes all stakeholders to move the status quo forward, not just those with the end vote. Consumers, regulators, and industry must remember our collective drivers and be willing to share best practices, propel continuous improvement, and, yes, accept increased regulation in order to move the bar forward if necessary. 115 years post-Pure Food and Drug Act, we have evolved, 10 years post-FSMA, we have evolved, but we must increase our rate of evolution. We have tremendous, untapped capacity to create significant change and save lives during the technologically advanced, partisan, hyper-politicized, woke, lit, insert adjective here decade that is and will be the roaring 20s v2.0—let’s be sure to take advantage of it.

References

  1. Stirling, DA. (2002). Harvey W. Wiley. Toxicological Sciences, 67(2), 157-158.
  2. Keuchel, E F. (1974). Chemicals and meat: the embalmed beef scandal of the Spanish-American war. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 48(2), 249-264.
  3. Barkan, I. D. (1985). Industry invites regulation: The Passage of the pure food and drug act of 1906. American Journal of Public Health (1971), 75(1), 18-26.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

No Tolerance For Fake Wines

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis

Fraudsters, take notice: The Hull City Council’s Trading Standards Team confiscated several hundred bottles of fake wine that imitated a well-known brand. Fortunately, in this case, the counterfeit wines did not pose a risk to human health, however, illicit alcoholic beverages can be dangerous. Hull’s city officials are taking this very seriously and set up a hotline where citizens can report fraud cases.

Wine fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Resource

  1. Hull CC News (June 16, 2021) “Hundreds of bottles of fake wine seized”. Hull CC News.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Yellow Is Not Always Golden

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Saffron Fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database, owned and operated by Decernis, a Food Safety Tech advertiser. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne.

Organized crime in Spain laundered millions of euros by selling saffron adulterated with dyes and herbs, some of these adulterants being unfit for human consumption. Spanish police with the assistance of Europol busted an importer who adulterated imported saffron threads and sold them with the high-end La Mancha region designation. The supply chain for the organized crime scheme was operating across the EU, with 17 arrests made in the sting operation.

Resource
1. Interpol and Europol. (April 12, 2020). “Adulterated saffron scam busted in Spain”. Securing Industry.

Jim Yargrough, BSI
Retail Food Safety Forum

COVID-19’s Impact on Food Industry Reaches Far Beyond Supermarket Shelves

By Jim Yarbrough, Neil Coole
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Jim Yargrough, BSI

2020 proved to be the most challenging year for the food industry in decades, significantly testing the resilience of food supply chains. Many of the industry’s challenges stemmed from the spread and aftermath of COVID-19, forcing food organizations to adjust in new ways to maintain their supply chain continuity, integrity and overall resilience. Yet, at the same time, the spread of the virus also exacerbated known threats that the industry has grappled with for years, such as food fraud, theft and safety issues.

A recently released report about supply chain risks identifies the trends and associated risks most likely to impact global supply chains in the year ahead, and observed that the pandemic’s longer-term effect on food supply chains is expected to result in increased threats, including fraud, theft and safety issues.1 These threats will continue to have an impact in the future, requiring wider adjustments to continuity and resilience planning.

Stockpiling, Panic Buying and the Global Rise of Food Insecurity

As we all saw in local supermarkets and grocery stores in March 2020, panic buying and stockpiling created significant disruptions to supply chains that ultimately led to empty shelves.

According to the World Bank, last year as many as 96 million additional people were pushed into food insecurity across 54 countries. This number, combined with the “137 million acutely food insecure people at the end of 2019 across these countries, brings the total to 233 million people by the end of 2020.” Coupled with COVID-19-related supply disruptions stemming from challenges around movement restrictions of people and goods as well as illness-related plant closures and availability of workers in the food sector, job losses across all industries reduced household income, which has accelearted the number of people facing increased food insecurity.

Food Fraud on a Global Scale

Unfortunately, the risk of corruption by individuals working in a supply chain correlates with the risk of food fraud. Approximately 85% of countries with a high risk of supply chain corruption also have a high risk of food fraud. This can create scenarios that criminals can exploit, most commonly by producing substandard food for distribution in that country or substituting labeled products with potentially harmful alternatives.

For example, in India, adulterated dairy products, especially domestically produced milk, were often found to be linked with fraud reports, with some reports indicating that approximately 89% of milk products had been adulterated. Countries such as India sometimes have gaps in legislation and enforcement that can reduce the ability to detect and seize fake food, making this issue one that is likely to continue post-pandemic. Our intelligence reveals that gaps in legislation and inadequate enforcement of regulations reduce the ability to detect food fraud and lead to prolonging the threat.1 At the same time, criminals continue to outpace poor regulatory regimes and grow more aware of their opportunities and advance the sophistication of their tactics.

Other forms of food fraud, in particular smuggling and disguising provenance, are common and are bound to continue in countries where the price of food continues to rise to a point where it becomes economically viable for criminals to take advantage of higher prices and smuggle it across borders. It is also possible that criminals will benefit from lower levels of enforcement, allowing other fraudulent methods, such as adulterating labels or expiration dates or using substandard or alternative ingredients, to proliferate fraud schemes around the world.

Food and Alcohol Become Top Targets for Theft and Safety Issues

The spread of COVID-19 also resulted in an increase in targeting and theft of products considered unusual for cargo theft incidents—arguably the most pronounced shift in this area in the last year. Initially, thieves began to target essential goods with a much higher frequency as the limited supplies and spikes in demand drastically increased their black-market value. Thefts of products such as PPE and food and beverages increased in frequency worldwide, overtaking the theft of historically targeted goods more, such as electronics.

The increase of food, beverage, alcohol and tobacco commodities theft can likely be attributed to their increased value as a result of panic-buying, shortages and increases in consumption, along with the ease with which they can be sold on the black market. However, the increasing value of these items has not only created a greater vulnerability for theft, but also means these commodities are at an elevated risk for counterfeiting and food safety violations.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 significantly affected governments’ capacity to enforce food safety regulations, which means that some foods may not have been checked as thoroughly. As the spread of COVID-19 reduces, government resources will likely be freed to increase food safety controls. However, further virus-related complications may reintroduce this risk.

COVID-19’s negative effects on the food industry have been pronounced, but it is worth noting that there have been areas of positive impact, too. As the industry adapted in novel ways, industry leaders developed a more holistic awareness of resilience, embracing the benefits of agile innovation, including remote auditing, and adapting their pre-pandemic ways of working to focus on meeting consumer demand.

Furthermore, organizations within the food industry learned the importance of resilience and the ability to proactively identify critical suppliers to ensure that appropriate continuity measures are in place in the event of further unplanned disruptions.

As the world begins the next phase of reopening, and many food industries remain on fragile footing due to the economic impacts of the pandemic, it will be critical that they remain aware of the changing regulatory landscape, shifting supply chains and potential disruptions to ensure they remain resilient.

Reference

  1. BSI. Supply Chain Risk Insights Report. (2021).