It is being speculated that the short-term decline in the number of food and beverage recalls this year is due to less regulatory oversight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During Q3, FDA food recall activity was up 34% compared to last quarter, but this increase is actually a sign of things returning to normal on the side of regulatory oversight activities, according to the latest Q3 Recall Index from Stericycle.
FDA Food Recalls: Notable Numbers (Q3 2020)
Undeclared allergens: 56 recalls, accounting for nearly 53% of all recalls; the top cause of an FDA food recalls for the 13th consecutive quarter
Bacterial contamination: Accounting for 62% of recalled units, this was the top cause of recalled units with Salmonella being the most common contaminant (the pathogen was responsible for 17 out of 24 recalls)
Foreign materials, quality and mislabeling were the other reasons for recalls
USDA Recalls: Notable Numbers (Q3 2020)
Undeclared allergens: Top cause of recalls; 6 recalls accounted of nearly 70% of all recalled pounds
A single meat and poultry recall affected more than 242,000 pounds (63%) of all recalled pounds
The average recall affected 38,000 pounds
Over the last three quarters, recalls have been at record low levels
Quarterly recall activity is averaging 8.3 recalls a quarter versus an average quarterly volume of more than 30 recalls over the last five years
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.
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.
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.
*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.”
Retired NFL player Rob Gronkowski, formerly of the New England Patriots, recently signed a deal with Abacus Health Products in Woonsocket, Rhode Island that includes buying a stake in the company and agreeing to promote its products. His decision reflects his belief that cannabidiol or “CBD” products made by the company under the brand CBDMEDIC can help others manage pain the way it has helped him.
Former world champion boxer Mike Tyson is developing a cannabis farm called “Cannabis Resort” for smokers and growers on his 40-acre land in California City. His company Tyson Holistic Holdings also owns Tyson Ranch, his own cannabis strain company and recently launched his CBD brand named CopperGel, which includes roll-on relief items.
Lifestyle maven Martha Stewart has entered into a deal with cannabis and CBD company Canopy Growth to be an adviser to the company. Her role will be to help it develop a new line of CBD-based products for both humans and animals.
Learn more about the direction of the cannabis industry at the 2019 Cannabis Quality Conference & Expo, which is co-located with the Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo | October 1–3, 2019 | Schaumburg, IL The involvement of these and other celebrities in the emerging CBD industry signals an escalation in the evolution of cannabis as a legal consumer product. CBD products are sold today not only through licensed dispensaries and pharmacies, but also in specialty cafes, smoke shops, grocery stores and general retailers. This reflects the degree to which cannabis has become increasingly integrated into mainstream society.
Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis products, and 11 states plus D.C. have legalized cannabis for recreational use by adults. Affecting industries as diverse as cosmetics, food and beverage and pharmaceuticals, the exponentially expanding CBD market has generated analyses forecasting that the collective market for CBD sales in the United States will surpass $15–20 billion by 2025, according to the firms BDS Analytics, Arcview Market Research and Cowen & Co.
Legal Recreational Use of Cannabis: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, plus the District of Columbia
Illinois became the second most-populous state (after California) to legalize recreational marijuana in June
Vermont was the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use through the legislative process. The state law allows for adults age 21 and over to grow and possess small amounts of cannabis. The sale of nonmedical cannabis is not allowed.
Yet, many government officials at the state and local levels, as well as industry members and consumers, justifiably question whether CBD products are legal. For example, in January 2019, New York City’s health department started prohibiting restaurants from adding any CBD supplement to food or drink, saying CBD was not approved by the federal government as a safe ingredient for human consumption. “The Health Department takes seriously its responsibility to protect New Yorkers’ health,” a spokeswoman said in a February 2019 email to media outlet CNBC. “Until cannabidiol (CBD) is deemed safe as a food additive, the Department is ordering restaurants not to offer products containing CBD.”
Is CBD legal in America? The answer is: “It’s complicated.”
The Details Behind CBD, Legalization and Marketing
CBD is the acronym for cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in cannabis plants—both hemp and marijuana. Unlike the chemical compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which also is found in those plants, CBD does not induce a “high.”
The main difference between marijuana and hemp is the amount of THC in the plants. If the cannabis plant contains more than 0.3% of THC, federal law defines the plant as “marijuana.” Hemp is a cannabis plant with less than 0.3% of THC. While CBD produced from hemp often is sold as an oil, it actually is a chemical compound.
The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (commonly known as the “2018 Farm Bill”) removed industrial hemp and hemp-derived CBD from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. Thus, by legalizing the production of hemp, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp and hemp seeds from the schedule of Controlled Substances maintained by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). That change effectively legalized hemp-derived CBD, which contains only trace amounts of THC, subject to federal agency health and safety regulations that govern all foods, beverages, supplements and other consumer products marketed in the United States. The new law also allows for increased research and product development of CBD extracted from hemp.
Not waiting for the regulators or scientists, enthusiastic entrepreneurs have produced extraordinary growth in the creation of markets for hemp CBD oil tinctures, topical creams, edibles, pet oil tinctures, vaping-liquids and a host of other consumer products purportedly containing CBD. The increase in CBD-related medical research, as well as the decreasing stigma surrounding CBD, has led to an industry boom, enticing celebrities and generating mass market growth for CBD products and sales.
According to predictive analysis and market research company Brightfield Group, $620 million worth of CBD products were sold last year in the United States. The same research team is projecting year-over-year CBD product sales growth in the United States of 706% in 2019 to reach approximately $5 billion, and sales of $23.7 billion by 2023.
Similarly, cannabis industry research firm BDS Analytics is predicting a compound annual growth rate of 49% by 2024 for all cannabis products across all distribution channels. The industry researchers also project that the CBD market, combined with other cannabis products, will create a total U.S. market of $45 billion for cannabinoids by 2024.
Another data group, New York-based Nielsen, estimates total sales of all legalized cannabis, which includes CBD products, reached $8 billion in the United States in 2018. According to Nielsen, U.S. cannabis sales should reach $41 billion by 2025, with marijuana products accounting for $35 billion, presuming 75% of the U.S. adult population has consistent access to legal marijuana by 2025.
In this context, there was only limited surprise in the marketplace when U.S. cannabis retailer Curaleaf Holdings Inc. disclosed in March 2019 that big-box retailer CVS Health Corp. will carry its line of CBD products. CVS, which is the largest drugstore chain by total sales in the United States, already has started to sell CBD products in eight states, including creams, sprays, roll-ons, lotions and salves.
Follow the link below to access page 2 of the article, which covers Regulatory Oversight and Emerging Enforcement.
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