Tag Archives: food fraud

How Do Canadian Food Industries Perceive Food Fraud, and How Do They Manage the Threat?

By Virginie Barrere, Ph.D.
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Food fraud has been at the center of attention recently and has highlighted inconsistencies in the food industry and supply chain management. Both consumers and regulators are demanding or imposing new standards for assuring the authenticity of food products. In such a context, food industries have to use their knowledge, perceptions and experience to answer and comply with regulators, consumers, and (for some) GFSI requirements regarding food fraud management. However, one can ask how ready and aware food industry players are to understand, mitigate and tackle food fraud. With those questions in mind, the research team of the CIRANO at Montreal, Canada led by Professor Nathalie de Marcellis-Warin and the research team of the PARERA platform at Laval University, Quebec, Canada led by Professor Samuel Godefroy had developed a survey of 52 closed questions to assess the awareness and the perceptions of Canadian food industries toward food fraud and what actions they had already implemented to mitigate their risks. The survey included six main sections:

  1. Food fraud definition
  2. Perceptions of food fraud burden globally and locally
  3. Food fraud regulations
  4. Food industry responsibility towards food fraud
  5. Their capacities to prevent and manage this aspect of food quality and safety
  6. Food fraud prevention practices, detection methods and their implementation.

A total of 398 Canadian food industries took the survey; they were food processors, producers (crop, livestock, and fisheries), and distributors (agricultural wholesalers, wholesaler-merchants, and retailers). They will be referred to as Food Business Operators (FBOs) or processors, producers, and distributors when a difference was highlighted between sectors.

What Is the Level of Knowledge of Food Fraud?

Firstly, there is no current data on knowledge of food industry operators on food fraud, hence, the research team proposed definitions and the respondents had to identify which ones could refer to food fraud (1) An intentional and deliberate act (2) False or misleading statements for economic gain and (3) An act aimed at misleading the consumer. More than nine FBOs assigned the definitions to food fraud, hence showing a good understanding of what food fraud is. In an additional question some examples of food fraud were proposed:

  1. Hidden mix of a liquid with another liquid of lower quality
  2. Hidden information about a product or one of its ingredients
  3. Hidden replacement of a product or one of its ingredients by a product of lower quality
  4. Labeling containing false claims
  5. Addition of a non-approved or illegal ingredient.

Again, more than 90% of the FBOs were able to identify those cases as food fraud. The answers to the first questions suggested that Canadian FBOs understand what food fraud is.

Was Your Company a Victim of Fraud?

The authors asked the respondents if they think or know that their company has already been the victim of food fraud in the past or recently. Besides, the respondents were asked to assess how safe their company is towards food fraud. More than a third of the respondents reported to have been a victim of fraud in the past, but sectors answered differently. In fact, while 40% of processors and 48% of the distributors answered it was likely or very likely that their company had been a victim, only 24% of the producers gave this answer. In parallel, one third of the respondents agreed that their business is safe from food fraud, however, the results per sector were statistically different: 42% of the producers agreed while only a quarter of the processors and the distributors felt safe from food fraud. Those results indicated a shift between producers and the two other sectors; the producers seem to feel less impacted and concerned by food fraud.

Who Is Responsible for Managing Food Fraud?

Depending on where the FBO is in the supply chain, one can make the hypothesis that this company might not feel responsible for the authenticity of the products it buys or sells. The survey authors asked respondents if they considered themselves as responsible for the products’ authenticity they would buy or sell to consumers or an intermediate. Among the three sectors, 82% of the respondents considered themselves as responsible for the products they received from the suppliers, and 80% for the authenticity of the products they sell to consumers. However, only half consider they are responsible for the product authenticity once it is processed or sold by a client. It was reassuring to see that FBOs understand fraud and consider themselves as responsible for ensuring food authenticity. One can argue that this perception will positively impact the robustness of their mitigation measures and the controls of food fraud.

Which Measures Have Canadian FBOs Implemented to Prevent Food Fraud?

FBOs mainly implemented a supply chain traceability system to mitigate food fraud. This result was not surprising, as traceability has to be in place to comply with current requirements for food safety and food quality. The vulnerability assessment is a recommended (or required) procedure to implement in food industries to comply with regulations and certifications such as GFSI, and 36% of the FBOs have implemented this measure (half of the processors). Finally, detection methods were implemented by only 27% of respondents. Interestingly, through another question, those three measures were seen as the more efficient way to fight food fraud according to the respondents. Also, FBOs would rely on a stable and long-term relationship based on trust with their supplier to mitigate food fraud and rated this measure as an efficient way to fight food fraud. Audits of suppliers and ingredient authenticity checking were also perceived as efficient but were not implemented as frequently. The lack of human resources, financial means, training, and time were the reasons why processors and distributors did not implement more measures to counter food fraud. Interestingly, the primary reason producers selected was “the system in place was enough” followed by lack of financial means, human resources and time and “food fraud is not an essential stake for our company.” One can relate this difference between the sectors with the observation made earlier on how safe the producers feel compared to the two other groups. Regarding detection methods, 88% of the FBOs rated their knowledge of those technologies as moderate or low, and 77% of the respondents rated the frequency of food fraud detection technologies as “never to rarely”. The reason why detection methods are not applied more was the lack of financial means, and the system in place is adequate to control food fraud.

Also, If They Identify Fraud, What’s Next?

Lastly, the authors asked what the respondent would do if their company identified an incident of fraud. Most of the respondents (69%) said they would speak to their supplier; this affirmation can be associated with the strong and long-term relationship the company would have with the supplier. The second option chosen was to change the supplier and then inform the authorities. The respondents could answer several questions, and one can hypothesize that their actions following the identification of fraud would depend on the severity of the fraud and its impacts on both the consumers and the company.

Conclusion

In summary, this survey is the first to assess the knowledge, perception and readiness of FBOs to fight food fraud. Results have indicated that Canadian FBOs understand what food fraud is but data is missing to support their perception that fraud is more present abroad than in Canada. Two third of the respondents feel unsafe towards food fraud which should be seen as positive point; in fact, FBOs would be keener to implement measures to protect themselves if they feel unsafe. Besides, a majority feels responsible for the authenticity of the products they sell to consumers. Respondents tend to implement preventive measures but perceive other measures as more efficient to counter fraud. Apparently, those measures seem to be too expensive, time-consuming and resource-consuming. Besides, lack of training on food fraud management was also reported as an impediment to fight fraud. Finally, differences have been highlighted along the survey between producers and the two others sectors: Processors and distributors. One can hypothesize that producers might feel less concerned by food fraud being at the very beginning of the food chain supply and that most food fraud cases involve their clients and not the producers directly.

Footnotes

  1. More details and more results are presented in a manuscript submitted by the research team: Food industry perceptions and actions towards food fraud: Insights from a pan Canadian study.
  2. Researchers involved in the project from the CIRANO: Yoann Guntzburger, Ingrid Peignier and Nathalie de Marcellis-Warin and from the PARERA platform Jeremie Theolier, Virginie Barrere and Samuel Godefroy. Partners: r-Biopharm, EnvironeX, the Quebec consortium for industrial bioprocess research and innovation (CRIBIQ), NSF, Transbiotech, and Olymel.
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

More Sugar, Not So Much Honey, Honey

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

Food safety and food labeling are strictly regulated in Canada and therefore, honey adulterated with sugars labeled as genuine is considered fraudulent. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) investigated Canadian honey samples from various sources within the supply chain, such as importers, blenders, retailers and more. Almost 22% of imported samples were adulterated with added sugars, the domestic (Canadian) samples showed no adulterations. The CFIA will continue monitoring honey imports and take measures to avoid fraudulent products entering the Canadian market.

Resource

  1. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (July 9, 2019). “Report: Enhanced honey authenticity surveillance (2018 to 2019)”. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Retrieved from http://inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/science/our-research-and-publications/report/eng/1557531883418/1557531883647

 

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Good Coordination Catches the Worm

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

An organized crime group produced and traded rotten and adulterated apple products labeled as organic. The food and beverage items, which were not suitable for human consumption, were worth several million Euros. A transnational investigation, coordinated by Eurojust, led to several arrests in Italy and Serbia and the confiscation of millions worth of illegal assets.

Resource

  1. Ton van Lierop. (July 1, 2019). “Eurojust helps reveal fake organic food fraud”. Eurojust, the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit. Retrieved from http://www.eurojust.europa.eu/press/PressReleases/Pages/2019/2019-07-01.aspx
Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

It’s All About the Supply Chain

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

I recently attended two webinars that highlighted distinct perspectives on two challenging aspects of food fraud prevention. First, Chris Elliott from Queen’s University Belfast discussed the current situation with meat fraud. He cited his “top three” fraud-prone foods as meat, olive oil and honey. While we cannot determine the true scope of food fraud globally, looking at the data we have collected from the past 10 years, meat is also in our “top three.”

Commodities, food draud, Decernis
Top 10 Commodity Groups. Source: Decernis Food Fraud Database

Meat is prone to fraud in many ways, including misrepresenting the animal species, fraudulent labeling of production practices (organic, kosher, halal, etc.), the use of unapproved additives, the addition of non-meat-based protein ingredients, and misrepresentation of geographic origin (among others).

Elliott discussed some of the reasons that meat is prone to fraud, which included the fact that the industry is highly competitive, relies on low profit margins, and the supply network can be complex. Discussing specifically the horsemeat scandal in Europe a few years ago, he cited the “mess of subcontracts” involved in the adulterated meat, which were based primarily on price. He finished his presentation by noting that certain aspects of meat authentication are still challenging from an analytical perspective, such as ensuring country of origin and verifying the claims about animal feed consumption.

The final in a series of food fraud webinars sponsored by the IAFP Food Fraud Professional Development Group (PDG) focused on another aspect of food fraud: E-commerce. One of the big challenges with food fraud is the intentional nature of the crime, which can make anticipation of adulterants and fraud methods difficult.

GFSI has stated “any plans and activities to mitigate, prevent or even understand the risks associated with food fraud should consider an entire company’s activities, including some that may not be within the traditional food safety or even HACCP scope, applying methods closer to criminal investigation.” This is particularly true for fraud involving intellectual property (IP) infringement, which adds another layer of complexity to detection and prevention strategies. We have more than 200 records documenting fraud involving “counterfeit” products. Counterfeit products are a problem both because of the IP infringement and because, often, the actual contents of the product cannot be verified. Many of the records we have documented involve counterfeit vodka, whiskey, and wine, as well as non-alcoholic soft drinks.

As part of the IAFP webinar, Axel Hein from ApiraSol discussed their work using global customs data to detect counterfeit products, so-called “fantasy trademarks,” and geographical indication infringements.

Global customs data, food fraud
Slide used with permission from ApiraSol

Many countries provide public access to customs data which, when aggregated and combined with other sources (such as Alibaba transactions), allows mapping of supply chains and detection of unusual patterns that may indicate fraud. In school, I spent many months digging through U.S. customs data trying to uncover patterns that might indicate fraud, so I was very interested to see this being done on a larger scale.

Although each webinar was distinct in its focus, each highlighted the importance of supply chain control and monitoring in mitigating food fraud risk. To paraphrase a point made by Elliott, each arrow in a supply network is a potential vulnerability. The continued globalization of the food supply requires new and innovative ways to reduce these supply chain vulnerabilities.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

The Meat of the Matter

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

Use of sulphites in food is tightly regulated in the Netherlands. “Vleesfraude” or meat fraud was committed by Dutch meat processors and butchers by adding large amounts of sulphites to ground beef, sausages and other processed meats in order to achieve the perfect “meaty” red color. Sulphites are classified as an allergen with mandatory labeling requirements, however, their use in meat is illegal in the first place. The affected products were pulled from the market and the companies were fined for fraud.

  1. Resource
    Fortune, A. (June 21, 2019). “Illegal sulphite use found in Dutch meat”. Global Meat News. Retrieved from https://www.globalmeatnews.com/Article/2019/06/21/Illegal-sulphite-use-found-in-Dutch-meat
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Operation Crucifère: Eat Your Greens (But from Where?)

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

This week, we are looking at a country-of-origin food fraud where U.S.-produced broccoli was mislabeled as “Produit de Canada” (Product of Canada). Other local producers observed suspicious activities and filed a mislabeling claim with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In Canada, federal government guidelines clearly regulate country of origin claims. The responsible food processor, who denies any wrongdoing, will face a steep fine and even jail time if convicted.

Resource

  1. Daphné Cameron, “Des brocolis canadiens… cultivés aux États-Unis?” (May 24, 2019). La Presse Canada. Retrieved from https://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/201905/23/01-5227341-des-brocolis-canadiens-cultives-aux-etats-unis.php
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

The Horse Is Out of the Barn

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

Every horse owner (and his or her wallet) know that their equine partner will most likely consume an array of medications over the course of their lifetime, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, joint supplements, antibiotics, topical ointments, pesticides and fly repellents, and many more. Many of these horses are not fit for human consumption, but some ended up in the human food supply, starting in Ireland. The Irish Police Force is investigating this quite lucrative horsemeat fraud, including raiding the suspects’ farms and other property and inspecting the horse microchip tracking system.

Resources

  1. Lally, C. (June 6, 2019). “Gardaí raid farms over claims unsafe horse meat entering food chain”. Irish Times. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/garda%C3%AD-raid-farms-over-claims-unsafe-horse-meat-entering-food-chain-1.3916827
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

You Don’t Want Your Bread Buttered on Both Sides

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Red Sunflower
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database.

Albania’s National Food Authority NFA discovered food fraud where Ukrainian vegetable fat labeled as margarine was sold as butter and buttermilk, in some cases claiming German origin. The NFA imposed fines and confiscated the fraudulent product. Since the importer did not sufficiently check the trade documents, they are seen as part of the fraud operation. The Albanian government will also increase punishment for those involved in food fraud in the future.

Resources

  1. “Margarine Sold as Butter, NFA Unveils Fraud Scheme” (May 31, 2019). Albanian Daily News. Retrieved from https://albaniandailynews.com/index.php?idm=31993&mod=2
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

This Bufala Is No Bufala

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Bufala
Find examples of these records and more in the Food Fraud Database.

Who doesn’t enjoy a nice Insalata Caprese or pizza Margherita with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella? Based on regulations in the EU and Italy, mozzarella di bufala is supposed to be made with buffalo milk only. “Bufala” in Italian may also mean “media hoax”, however, in this case, science shows that there is indeed “no bufala”. Multiple reaction monitoring mass spectrometry brings wide-spread fraught to light, showing that two-thirds of the tested supermarket and restaurant products are made with much cheaper cow’s milk, according to a study published in Food Control.

Resources

Gunning, Y., et al. (July 2019). “Quantitative authenticity testing of buffalo mozzarella via αs1-Casein using multiple reaction monitoring mass spectrometry”. Food Control. Volume 101, Pages 189-197. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956713519300775?via%3Dihub

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

This Smells Quite Fishy

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food fraud, Fish
Records involving fraud can be found in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

In a EU-wide coordinated effort, more than a dozen members of an organized criminal group were arrested. The criminals were fishing with illegal methods, and processed and stored their catch in unsanitary conditions. Consumers’ health was possibly affected by the rotting fish being treated with bleach to mask unsavory smells, with the goal to sell the fish in multiple EU countries, yielding a revenue of more than €100,000 per year. In addition, the gang committed tax and money laundering crimes.

Resources

  1. EU-OCS Editor (May 16 2019). “Tons of contaminated fish seized in EU-wide operation”. EU-OCS Latest News on Crime and Security in Europe. Retrieved from https://eu-ocs.com/tons-of-contaminated-fish-seized-in-eu-wide-operation/