Spices and herbs are sourced at a rate of 300,000 tons into the EU from places around the world, and fraudulent activity can happen in any steps along the supply chain. The European Commission’s control plan investigated nearly 2,000 samples of herbs and spices commonly targeted for fraud, such as oregano, cumin, turmeric, paprika, pepper and saffron, and found oregano to be the most manipulated, usually by the addition of olive leaves. Overall, the rate of 17% fraudulent products was down compared to other studies.
Who wants shredded olive leaves on their pizza instead of oregano? Herbs and spices keep being a target for food fraud, a European Commission study that analyzed nearly 1,900 samples revealed. The study showed that about 20% of herbs and spices are manipulated, with oregano leading the top of the list, followed by spices that include pepper, cumin, curcuma, saffron and paprika. Europe is a leading importer of herbs and spices at 300,000 tons a year. The entire supply chain from country of origin, processing, packaging, importing to distribution, is potentially vulnerable to fraud. In most cases, undeclared plant material was added, and sometimes toxic dyes were found—and these are detrimental to human health.
Honey harvest in Europe is predicted to be down by 40% in 2020. This disastrous harvest is caused by a combination of issues, including flood, draught and climate change in a variety of regions. One third of honey into the EU is imported, and cheap, sometimes fake imports are undercutting EU producers’ prices. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre states that at least 14% of honeys in the EU are adulterated. Two recent incidents of honey adulteration in Greece show that this is a serious problem and possibly an indication of more fraudulent activity to come.
The European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) Portal shows a notification about the use of olive leaves in oregano in Turkey. Addition of cheaper bulking agents to herbs and spices is a common way of achieving a higher profit margin for pricier herbs. The olive leaves were classified as an unauthorized novel ingredient; however, they are known to be used for the adulteration of oregano. An investigation of commercial oregano samples showed that one quarter of samples were adulterated with other plant leaves, and two of the samples didn’t even contain any oregano.
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