Global Testing, Inspection and Certification (TIC) company Kiwa has acquired St. Louis-based ASI. ASI has provided farm-to-fork food safety solutions since the 1940s. The company offers a full suite of safety and quality services to the food and beverage, dietary supplements and cannabis industries. The merger will strengthen Kiwa’s U.S. footprint in providing Food, Feed & Farm certifications.
“Kiwa and ASI share similar customer-first business values and follow the same business model when it comes to testing, inspection and certification. By joining the Kiwa family, we’re combining their wide portfolio of accreditations and services (BRC, IFS, FSSC, PrimusGFS, GLOBALG.A.P., Rainforest Alliance, MSC/ASC, Organic/USDA and many others), global business network and expertise with our client network in farm-to-fork food safety to assist our growing client base in North America even better,” said Charray Williams, CEO of ASI.
On January 1, 2023, 29-year-old Tyler Williams, CTO of ASI, will take the reigns as CEO of ASI. He is the youngest CEO in the history of the company. He will succeed current CEO Charray Williams and lead the expansion of Kiwa and ASI in the Food, Feed & Farm sector in North America. Richard Stolk, Kiwa’s global Director for the Food, Feed & Farm sector will serve as President of the Board of ASI and will be directly involved in the further growth of ASI.
“Kiwa already has a strong footprint in the global Food, Feed & Farm sector. With ASI, we significantly expand our reach, expertise and footprint, particularly in the U.S. but certainly with a global perspective. Now that we have welcomed ASI to the Kiwa family, we can better provide our customers with a one-stop shop for food- and feed-related certification services on all continents,” said Stolk.
Organic fraud cases are on the increase and often, the criminals get away with these crimes. The USDA-OIG catching a multi-million dollar case like this one represents just the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of five years, the operator of a grain and seed business misrepresented his products as organic, claiming premium prices and defrauding clients of millions of dollars. Transactions for money and documents crossed multiple state lines in the United States through several related business entities. The business owner was sentenced to several years in prison and hefty fines for wire fraud, money laundering, and for defrauding the National Organic Program.
Organic produce is a lucrative and growing market and an easy target for food fraud. Mislabeled organically certified pistachios were bringing in up to 80% more revenue than conventional nuts, resulting in a €6 million profit. European officials including Europol uncovered the illegal operation and made 14 arrests in Spain. Forensic analysis showed that the pistachios contained illegal pesticides.
It is fair to say that 2020 was a challenging year with wide-ranging effects, including significant effects on our ongoing efforts to ensure food integrity and prevent fraud in the food system. COVID-19 caused major supply chain disruptions for foods and many other consumer products. It also highlighted challenges in effective tracking and standardization of food fraud-related data.
Let’s take a look at some of the notable food fraud occurrences in 2020:
Organic Products. The Spanish Guardia Civil investigated an organized crime group that sold pistachios with pesticide residues that were fraudulently labeled as organic, reportedly yielding €6 million in profit. USDA reported fraudulent organic certificates for products including winter squash, leafy greens, collagen peptides powder, blackberries, and avocados. Counterfeit wines with fraudulent DOG, PGI, and organic labels were discovered in Italy.
Herbs and Spices. Quite a few reports came out of India and Pakistan about adulteration and fraud in the local spice market. One of the most egregious involved the use of animal dung along with various other substances in the production of fraudulent chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and garam masala spice mix. Greece issued a notification for a turmeric recall following the detection of lead, chromium, and mercury in a sample of the product. Belgium recalled chili pepper for containing an “unauthorized coloring agent.” Reports of research conducted at Queen’s University Belfast also indicated that 25% of sage samples purchased from e-commerce or independent channels in the U.K. were adulterated with other leafy material.
Dairy Products. India and Pakistan have also reported quite a few incidents of fraud in local markets involving dairy products. These have included reports of counterfeit ghee and fraudulent ghee manufactured with animal fats as well as milk adulterated with a variety of fraudulent substances. The Czech Republic issued a report about Edam cheese that contained vegetable fat instead of milk fat.
Meat and Fish. This European report concluded that the vulnerability to fraud in animal production networks was particularly high during to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the “most widely spread effects in terms of production, logistics, and demand.” Thousands of pounds of seafood were destroyed in Cambodia because they contained a gelatin-like substance. Fraudulent USDA marks of inspection were discovered on chicken imported to the United States from China. Soy protein far exceeding levels that could be expected from cross contamination were identified in sausage in the Czech Republic. In Colombia, a supplier of food for school children was accused of selling donkey and horse meat as beef. Decades of fraud involving halal beef was recently reported in in Malaysia.
Alcoholic Beverages. To date, our system has captured more than 30 separate incidents of fraud involving wine or other alcoholic beverages in 2020. Many of these involved illegally produced products, some of which contained toxic substances such as methanol. There were also multiple reports of counterfeit wines and whisky. Wines were also adulterated with sugar, flavors, colors and water.
We have currently captured about 70% of the number of incidents for 2020 as compared to 2019, although there are always lags in reporting and data capture, so we expect that number to rise over the coming weeks. These numbers do not appear to bear out predictions about the higher risk of food fraud cited by many groups resulting from the effects of COVID-19. This is likely due in part to reduced surveillance and reporting due to the effects of COVID lockdowns on regulatory and auditing programs. However, as noted in a recent article, we should take seriously food fraud reports that occur against this “backdrop of reduced regulatory oversight during the COVID-19 pandemic.” If public reports are just the tip of the iceburg, 2020 numbers that are close to those reported in 2019 may indeed indicate that the iceburg is actually larger.
Unfortunately, tracking food fraud reports and inferring trends is a difficult task. There is currently no globally standardized system for collection and reporting information on food fraud occurrences, or even standardized definitions for food fraud and the ways in which it happens. Media reports of fraud are challenging to verify and there can be many media reports related to one individual incident, which complicates tracking (especially by automated systems). Reports from official sources are not without their own challenges. Government agencies have varying priorities for their surveillance and testing programs, and these priorities have a direct effect on the data that is reported. Therefore, increases in reports for a particular commodity do not necessarily indicate a trend, they may just reflect an ongoing regulatory priority a particular country. Official sources are also not standardized with respect to how they report food safety or fraud incidents. Two RASFF notifications in 2008 following the discovery of melamine adulteration in milk illustrate this point (see Figure 1). In the first notification for a “milk drink” product, the hazard category was listed as “adulteration/fraud.” However, in the second notification for “chocolate and strawberry flavor body pen sets,” the hazard category was listed as “industrial contaminants,” even though the analytical result was higher.1
What does all of this mean for ensuring food authenticity into 2021? We need to continue efforts to align terminology, track food fraud risk data, and ensure transparency and evaluation of the data that is reported. Alignment and standardization of food fraud reporting would go a long way to improving our understanding of how much food fraud occurs and where. Renewed efforts by global authorities to strengthen food authenticity protections are important. Finally, consumers and industry must continue to demand and ensure authenticity in our food supply. While most food fraud may not have immediate health consequences for consumers, reduced controls can lead to systemic problems and have devastating effects.
Everstine, K., Popping, B., and Gendel, S.M. (2021). Food fraud mitigation: strategic approaches and tools. In R.S. Hellberg, K. Everstine, & S. Sklare (Eds.) Food Fraud – A Global Threat With Public Health and Economic Consequences (pp. 23-44). Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-817242-1.00015-4
Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of a limited number of cases of organic romaine lettuce hearts over E.coli contamination. The recalled products, Dole Organic Romaine Hearts 3pk, combined English/French packaging (with Harvested-On dates of 10-23-20 and 10-26-20), and Wild Harvest Organic Romaine Hearts (with Harvested-On dates of 10-23-20 and 10-26-20).
The products were harvested and packed nearly four weeks ago, according to the FDA release and were distributed in AZ, HI, IA, IL, IN, KS, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND and VA. No illnesses have been reported.
The issue was uncovered during routine FSIS testing. The products were reportedly distributed to retailers, including Walmart, nationwide. Thus far there are no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of the affect products.
USDA Certified Organic foods keep enjoying a robust growth, with fruit and vegetables leading, followed by dairy and beverages. Fraudulent organic certification is a growing problem, especially because food supply chains are becoming more complex, with a large amount of organic food now being imported. Violations by fraudulent organic certification are punishable by hefty fines and can be reported to the National Organic Program Online Complaint Portal.
The plant-based meat market is anticipated to be worth more than $320 millionin the next five years, according to a report released last summer by Global Market Insights. As the popularity of meat-alternative products continues to rise, new challenges are being introduced to supply chain management. Joe Scioscia, vice president of sales at VAI explains some of these hurdles and proposes how technology can help.
Food Safety Tech: Is the growing popularity of plant-based foods introducing hazards or challenges to the supply chain?
Joe Scioscia: The growing popularity of plant-based foods has presented a new set of challenges for the supply chain, especially considering many of these organic items are being introduced by traditionally non-organic retailers. Impossible Foods received FDA approval for its plant-based burger in 2019, showing just how new the plant-based movement is to the industry.
Obviously, the organic supply chain and produce suppliers have long followed regulations for handling produce, such as temperature controls, cargo tracking, and supply and demand planning software, so the produce could be tracked from farm to table and in the case of a recall, be traced back to the source. But for meat alternatives that are combining multiple plant-based ingredients, organizations in the supply chain who are handling these products
have new food safety concerns. Considerations on how to store and process meat alternatives, how to treat each ingredient in the product and, most importantly, how to determine temperature controls or the source of contamination are all discussions the food industry is currently having.
FST: How are plant-based foods changing the dynamic of the supply chain from a food safety perspective?
Scioscia: The food supply chain has changed dramatically in recent years to become more complex, with food items traveling farther than ever before, containing more ingredients and required to follow stricter regulations. Many of the changes to the supply chain are for the better—organic and plant-based alternatives offer health benefits for consumers and are a move towards a more sustainable future. But the reality is that the supply chain isn’t quite there yet. Suppliers, retailers and producers at every part of the supply chain need to work together to ensure transparency and food safety compliance—including for plant-based products. Foodborne illnesses are still a real threat to the safety of consumers, and these same consumers are demanding transparency into the source of their food and sustainable practices from brands. All of these considerations are what’s making this next era of the food industry more complicated than ever before.
Because food safety compliance is always top of mind in the food industry to keep consumers safe, this new and complex supply chain has required companies to rely heavily on technology solutions to ensure plant-based products are equally as safe to consume as non-organic alternatives. These same solutions are also helping supply chains become more transparent for customers and streamline food processes to build a more sustainable future.
FST: What technologies can food companies and retailers use to better manage the supply chain risk while supporting the increased consumer demand for meat alternatives?
Scioscia: Utilizing a centralized software system is one tool many food suppliers and distributors can use to better visualize, trace and process products in the supply chain—including for plant-based alternatives. Having access to a central platform for business data to track assets and ensure food safety regulations are being met allows for companies to optimize processes and cut unnecessary costs along the way.
Heading into 2020, many organizations in the food supply chain are also looking at new applications like IoT, automation, and blockchain as ways to curb food safety issues. The FDA has taken steps to pilot blockchain and AI programs to better track drugs and food products, in conjunction with major food brands and technology companies. Other organizations are following suit with their own programs and many are looking at these solutions to improve their food tracking efforts. It’s clear technology has the most potential to make it easier on the industry to comply with food safety regulations while meeting customer demands for plant-based alternatives and organic options—all the while building a sustainable supply chain for the future.
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.
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
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