Tag Archives: exports

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

COVID-19 and Food Fraud Risk

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

While foodborne transmission of the novel coronavirus is unlikely , the virus has significantly affected all aspects of food production, food manufacturing, retail sales, and foodservice. The food and agriculture sector has been designated as a “critical infrastructure,” meaning that everyone from farm workers to pest control companies to grocery store employees has been deemed essential during this public health crisis.* As a society, we need the food and agriculture sector to continue to operate during a time when severe illnesses, stay-at-home orders and widespread economic impacts are occurring. Reports of fraudulent COVID-19 test kits and healthcare scams reinforce that “crime tends to survive and prosper in a crisis.” What does all of this mean for food integrity? Let’s look at some of the major effects on food systems and what they can tell us about the risk of food fraud.

Supply chains have seen major disruptions. Primary food production has generally continued, but there have been challenges within the food supply chain that have led to empty store shelves. Recent reports have noted shortages of people to harvest crops, multiple large meat processing facilities shut down due to COVID-19 cases, and recommendations for employee distancing measures that reduce processing rates. One large U.S. meat processor warned of the need to depopulate millions of animals and stated “the food supply chain is breaking.” (An Executive Order was subsequently issued to keep meat processing plants open).

Equally concerning are reports of supply disruptions in commodities coming out of major producing regions. Rice exports out of India have been delayed or stopped due to labor shortages and lockdown measures. Vietnam, which had halted rice exports entirely in March, has now agreed to resume exports that are capped at much lower levels than last year. Other countries have enacted similar protectionist measures. One group has predicted possible food riots in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil that may experience major food disruption coupled with high population density and poverty.

Supply chain complexity, transparency and strong and established supplier relationships are key aspects to consider as part of a food fraud prevention program. Safety or authenticity problems in one ingredient shipment can have a huge effect on the market if they are not identified before products get to retail (see Figure 1). Widespread supply chain disruptions, and the inevitable supplier adjustments that will need to be made by producers, increase the overall risk of fraud.

Reconstructed supply chain
Figure 1. Reconstructed supply chain based on recall data following the identification of Sudan I in the chili powder supply chain in 2005. Data source: Food Standards Agency of the U.K. National Archives and The Guardian. Figure from: Everstine, K. Supply Chain Complexity and Economically Motivated Adulteration. In: Food Protection and Security – Preventing and Mitigating Contamination during Food Processing and Production. Shaun Kennedy (Ed.) Woodhead Publishing: 26th October 2016. Available at: https://www.elsevier.com/books/food-protection-and-security/kennedy/978-1-78242-251-8

Regulatory oversight and audit programs have been modified. The combination of the public health risk that COVID-19 presents with the fact that food and agriculture system workers have been deemed “critical” has led to adjustments on the part of government and regulatory agencies (and private food safety programs) with respect to inspections, labeling requirements, audits, and other routine activities. The FDA has taken measures including providing flexibility in labeling for certain menus and food products, temporarily conducting remote inspections of food importers, and generally limiting domestic inspections to those that are most critical. USDA FSIS has also indicated they are “exercising enforcement discretion” to provide labeling flexibilities. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced they are prioritizing certain regulatory activities and temporarily suspending those activities determined to be “low risk.” GFSI has also taken measures to allow Certification Program Owners to provide certificate extensions due to the inability to conduct in-person audits.

While these organizations have assured stakeholders and the public that food safety is of primary importance, the level of direct regulatory and auditing oversight has been reduced to reduce the risk of virus transmission during in-person activities. Strong auditing programs with an anti-fraud component are an important aspect of food fraud prevention. Adjustments to regulatory and auditing oversight, as necessary as they may be, increase the risk of fraud in the food system.

There is a focus on safety and sustainability of foods. The food industry and regulatory agencies are understandably focused on basic food safety and food sustainability and less focused on non-critical issues such as quality and labeling. However, there is a general sense among some in industry that the risk of food fraud is heightened right now. Many of the effects on the industry due to COVID-19 are factors that are known to increase fraud risk: Supply chain disruptions, changes in commodity prices, supplier relationships (which may need to be changed in response to shortages), and a lack of strong auditing and oversight. However, as of yet, we have not seen a sharp increase in public reports of food fraud.

This may be due to the fact that we are still in the relatively early stages of the supply chain disruptions. India reported recently that the Food Safety Department of Kerala seized thousands of kilograms of “stale” and “toxic” fish and shrimp illegally brought in to replace supply shortages resulting from the halt in fishing that occurred due to lockdown measures.

High-value products may be particularly at risk. Certain high-value products, such as botanical ingredients used in foods and dietary supplements, may be especially at risk due to supply chain disruptions. Historical data indicate that high-value products such as extra virgin olive oil, honey, spices, and liquors, are perpetual targets for fraudulent activity. Turmeric, which we have discussed previously, was particularly cited as being at high risk for fraud due to “‘exploding’ demand ‘amidst supply chain disruptions.’”

How can we ensure food sufficiency, safety, and integrity? FAO has recommended that food banks be mobilized, the health of workers in the food and agriculture sector be prioritized, that governments support small food producers, and that trade and tax policies keep global food trade open. They go on to say, “by keeping the gears of the supply chains moving and actively seeking international cooperation to keep trade open, countries can prevent food shortages and protect the most vulnerable populations.” FAO and WHO also published interim guidance for national food safety control systems, which noted the increased risk of food fraud. They stated “during this pandemic, competent authorities should investigate reported incidences involving food fraud and work closely with food businesses to assess the vulnerability of supply chains…”.

From a food industry perspective, some important considerations include whether businesses have multiple approved suppliers for essential ingredients and the availability of commodities that may affect your upstream suppliers. The Acheson Group recommends increasing supply chain surveillance during this time. The Food Chemicals Codex group recommends testing early and testing often and maintaining clear and accurate communication along the supply chain.1 The nonprofit American Botanical Council, in a memo from its Botanical Adulterants Prevention Program, stated “responsible buyers, even those with relatively robust quality control programs, may need to double- or even triple-down on QC measures that deal with ingredient identity and authenticity.”

Measures to ensure the sufficiency, sustainability, safety and integrity of foods are more closely linked than ever before. In this time when sufficiency is critical, it is important to avoid preventable food recalls due to authenticity concerns. We also need to stay alert for situations where illegal and possibly hazardous food products enter the market due to shortages created by secondary effects of the virus. The best practices industry uses to reduce the risk of food fraud are now important for also ensuring the sufficiency, sustainability and safety of the global food supply.

Reference

  1. Food Safety Tech. (April 24, 2020). “COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Mitigating and Preparing for Supply Chain Disruptions “. On-Demand Webinar. Registration page retrieved from https://register.gotowebinar.com/recording/1172058910950755596

*Foodborne transmission is, according to the Food Standards Agency in the U.K., “unlikely” and, according to the U.S. FDA, “currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”

Kevin Kenny, Decernis
FST Soapbox

COVID-19 Supply Chain Disruptions on the Horizon

By Kevin Kenny
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Kevin Kenny, Decernis

On the one level, it’s still too early to see full supply chain stoppages, other than growing port and customs delays. While one does not need a crystal ball to see that significant issues are already on the horizon, it takes time for both positive and negative supply impacts to wend their way through the chain.

My company, Decernis, a FoodChain ID Company, provides a complete regulatory intelligence software suite that covers more than 100,000 global regulations in 219 countries, and as such, we have a unique global perspective on how the pandemic is going to affect the supply chain.

Among the countries to watch is India, which imposed a nationwide 21-day shutdown on March 25 and thus far is the tightest lockdown in the world. In the large cities, the lack of public transportation has forced newly unemployed to walk home, often over a period of days, to their home villages. This creates a challenge for the economy because India depends on seasonal migrant and factory workers.

Unlike most countries, pharmaceutical and supplement manufacturers, as well as food processors, are entirely shut down. While farm operations and their supply chains are exempt, there is no harvest without migrant labor. Moreover, truckers transporting frozen goods often are stopped en route due to uneven permit enforcement across states. Add to this the problem of export foods stuck in containers or ports with limited market access, combined with import/export restrictions, and a crisis is at hand.

And, while the Indian government has not banned rice exports, India’s Rice Exporters Association effectively suspended exports because of dramatic labor shortages and logistical disruptions. So, while buyers exist, there is no practical way to harvest, process or ship those exports.

Combine the lack of migrant agricultural workers with the closing of restaurants and schools in many countries and economies are left with a steep drop in demand. As a result, unprocessed food including pork, eggs, milk and early-harvest fruits and vegetables are being destroyed or “tilled under.”

Countries whose leadership is turning a blind eye to the pandemic (i.e., Brazil) will ultimately see a more significant impact.

Another major player to watch is China, where the tariff crisis initially exposed supply chain vulnerabilities. Combined with the current pandemic, businesses now see that sourcing can often be a more substantial factor than price.

Prior to COVID-19, the United States, among other countries, initiated a trend toward blatant economic nationalism, which significantly accelerated this year. In an effort to protect their populations and national security, countries (i.e., Cambodia, India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine) halted the export of vital commodities. As a result, critical supplies have been diverted to more developed countries that can outbid and pay a higher price, leading to food security risks in smaller and weaker markets.

These factors will trigger a rethinking of supply chains in the medium and long term. The cost savings realized in China, India, Vietnam and Thailand will be weighed against the threats to supply chain stability. The result may be a subtle new form of supply chain nationalism, where companies prefer more reliable local production to lower-cost, more vulnerable foreign production. The recent sourcing trend for large multinationals to partner with fewer, trusted providers could reverse once the dust settles from this pandemic.

The decrease in air cargo capacity (due to the grounding of passenger aircrafts) has also played a significant role in supply chain disruption and will lead to dramatic short-term increases in the cost of air freight.

Last, but certainly not least, will be the fallout from obvious bankruptcies. As an early indicator, 247,000 Chinese companies declared bankruptcy in the first two months of 2020, with many more closures expected.

Obvious candidates include movie theaters, airlines, cruise ships, retailers, and hotels, but any company caught carrying a large debt load is also endangered. Pharma companies and those in oil, gas and petrochemicals will also be affected by a perfect storm of oil market collapse.

On a positive note, any supplement (i.e., Vitamin B, C and D) food commodity (i.e., blueberries, oranges) and processed food products (i.e., juices, yogurts) perceived to have immunity-boosting potential will likely see a short and long-term boost in sales. Botanicals, however, may soon have significant new sourcing problems.

As they deal with consequences of this pandemic, global companies will need to strategize for building a more durable and flexible supply chain. These unprecedented times are sure to spark more innovation and technological growth to address the challenges industry is facing.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Not in Good Spirits

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, brandy
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Fake brandy based on corn distillate was purchased by a Spanish company based in Georgia and was exported to other EU countries with falsified documentation. Fortunately, this alcohol fraud did not pose a health hazard like many other alcohol fraud cases. However, the economic gain for the fraudulent brandy was going to be huge, since a volume of 4 million liters of “brandy” was exported. EU regulations state that brandy is supposed to be based on wine distillate only, which costs up to four times more than distillate made from corn.

Resources

  1. Herraiz, P. El Mundo (September 16, 2019). “La trama del brandy español falsificado exportó cuatro millones de litros ilegalmente”.
Allen Sayler, EAS
FST Soapbox

Fast Track to FDA FURLS—Expediting or Impeding Access to Overseas Markets

By Allen Sayler
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Allen Sayler, EAS

Is the FDA Unified and Listing Systems (FURLS) system with its newly updated electronic Export Listing Module (ELM) a pathway to overseas markets or just one more regulatory hurdle that has been put in place by the U.S. government to impede export of U.S.-processed foods? A review of the new updates is needed to provide the answer to this question.

Regardless of the answer to this question, whether your company is already participating in this program or is looking for new markets outside the United States in countries that do not require the FDA listing of U.S. food companies, you must understand how the FURLS system works, how to electronically register and better understand the regulatory challenges of the importing country.

The FDA recently released a notification that their FDA Unified and Listing Systems (FURLS) system has been updated to include an Export Listing Module (ELM). This update allows U.S. food manufacturers to electronically submit, and for FDA to receive and process requests for inclusion on the export lists for FDA-regulated food products and present these lists to countries that require them, whether your company is already participating in this program or is looking for new markets outside the United States.

As background, the FDA has established and maintains export lists for countries that require some assurance that U.S. food manufacturers exporting to these countries, at a minimum, meet all applicable food safety regulations enforced by FDA. These lists, in an unofficial way, serve as a “certification” by the FDA, representing the U.S. government, that either included facilities have provided information to the FDA to assert they are in compliance with the importing country’s regulations and requirements or, more likely, that the U.S. food manufacturer is meeting the currently applicable U.S. laws and regulations.

Other options for U.S. food manufacturers that are interested or already exporting to countries that do not require the FDA lists, include the FDA’s export certificates, which give the agency’s official attestation concerning a product’s regulatory or marketing status. The fact that FDA has issued an export certificate does not preclude FDA from taking appropriate regulatory action against a product covered by the certificate. CFSAN issues “certificates of export” for seafood, food additives and food contact substances. CFSAN issues “certificates of free sale” for land food, dietary supplements, infant formula, medical foods and foods for special dietary use. U.S. firms wishing to apply for an export certificate for a food product may log in to FDA Industry Systems and submit an online application through the Certificate Application Process.

TraceGains, verifying suppliers Need to learn more about supplier verification? TraceGains is here to help! Download our Foreign Supplier Verification Program Guidebook to learn the ins and outs of this complicated FSMA addition. TraceGains enlisted the help of Marc Sanchez, regulatory attorney specializing in FDA and USDA law, and Shawn Stevens, a global food safety lawyer, to provide insight and break down some of the confusion.

Back to the FDA list option. It is important to note that companies may request to be included on these lists at any time; however, updates to the lists are only published quarterly by the FDA. Additionally, final listing decisions are made by the competent authority of the importing country. This is to say, there can be a short or lengthy process between the time when FDA updates the list for a particular country and when that country formally accepts the updated list. Since there is no downside for a company to appear on one FDA list or many (lists maintained for each country), this potential delay in official acceptance of the list should drive U.S. food companies to apply to be on all of the country lists, before there is a specific need to do so. Remember the old adage, “When you are in a hurry, inevitably you end up standing in the slowest line.”

Market access for U.S.-manufactured dairy products to the EU, China and Chile, for example, are subject to these listing requirements in order to gain market access. Do ensure you have verified that your dairy product meets the standards and labeling requirements for the country to which you wish to export, as it is likely that a foreign country’s dairy product requirements will not necessarily be the same as what is found in the United States. Another example is that in order to export U.S.-manufactured collagen and gelatin products to the EU, companies must provide a laboratory report from an accredited, private laboratory demonstrating that the products comply with the established criteria. For exporters of U.S.-manufactured/processed seafood products to the EU or China, inclusion on the FDA-maintained list is required, as well as an export certificate which is provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Seafood Inspection Program after FDA listing has been completed.

Finally, U.S.-manufactured infant formula exports to China are also subject to listing requirements. It should be noted that the China Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) defines infant formula as food intended for children up to 36 months of age, known as “infant and young children formula”. This differs from the U.S. definition. Please be advised that CNCA requires new applicants to submit evidence of third-party certification of compliance with Chinese laws and regulations as part of the application process. CNCA also requires that infant formula manufacturers/processors submit an Establishment Registration Application with additional information to CNCA.

One of the most important keys to gaining access to overseas markets is to get your company enrolled on as many of these FDA lists as possible, obtain FDA certificates of free sale ahead of time, and make sure you update your information and keep it current within the various FDA electronic database systems.

Whether your company faces a foreign market access challenge via being a part of the FDA List or needing to get an FDA “Certificate of Free Sale” or just have questions related to moving product out of a U.S. port and into a foreign port, contact a reputable consulting firm for assistance.

Department of Commerce

Wilbur Ross Confirmed to Head Department of Commerce

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Department of Commerce

In a 72-27 Senate vote yesterday, Wilbur Ross was confirmed as the Secretary of Commerce. The secretary’s position plays a crucial role in the growth of the animal food industry, with last year’s exports surpassing $11 billion (includes feed, feed ingredients and pet food). Ross will have an important part in collaborating on federal trade issues, especially in efforts to strengthen agricultural exports, as well effectively working with agencies such as the USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

“It is important for Sec. Ross to understand how international markets are key for continued development and success of the U.S. feed industry. The agriculture industry, specifically the animal food sector, must be a priority when determining administrative trade policy. If not, our ability to advance will be diminished. It is now Sec. Ross and the Department of Commerce’s job to protect our industry from unfair global practices, including violations of intellectual property rights,” said Joel Newman, president and CEO of the American Feed Industry Association in a press release.