Is food fraud escalating amid COVID-19? Labeling watchdogs flag supply chain vulnerabilities
11 Feb 2021 --- COVID-19’s pressures have left regulatory surveillance systems more vulnerable to food fraud, with global labeling compliance bodies questioning whether the issue is more widespread than what is currently reported in official alerts.
A new investigation reveals significantly more media reports (81 more media reports) concerning food fraud than official alerts (19 more official reports) since the start of the pandemic.
The analysis compares data collected from the time frame of January to June 2020 to the same period in 2019. It was published by Food Authenticity Network (FAN) in collaboration with food testing provider Mérieux Nutrisciences and the UK government.
“The increasing number of official alerts where the [fraudulent] food is cited as being from an ‘unknown origin country’ is also concerning as it creates additional confusion,” the authors of the report flag.
Food fraud is a collective term used in the analysis to encompass the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, ingredients or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain.
FoodIngredientsFirst has reached out to the authors for comment.
“Local” food fraud could be endemic
In its weekly monitoring of global media alerts for food fraud, FAN has observed that media sources in some countries tend to report more “local” or regional food fraud incidents than others.
“It would be useful, therefore, for ‘horizon-scanning’ tools to publish the origin of food fraud media reports so that an assessment can be made as to whether any observed increases pertain to global incidents or are more ‘local’ in nature,” the report stresses.
For some countries, the rises in food fraud appear significant, such as in the case of Ghana, which was recorded as the origin country of food fraud incidents 14 times in 2020, compared to only four times in 2019.
For “concerned countries” – countries where an adulterated food product was marketed – both Ghana (two in 2019 to 14 in 2020) and Hungary (zero in 2019 to eight in 2020) revealed significant increases in food fraud during the pandemic period.
“It is not clear how significant the observed increases are considering the availability of a relatively small number of global official food fraud alerts and the variability in the type of data available from different countries and sources, making it difficult to undertake statistical comparisons,” comments the UK government in a statement.
Food fraud versus food safety
The report notes that current worldwide monitoring of food fraud incidents is in its infancy, when compared to the reporting of food safety issues.
Meanwhile, database based tools are still managing relatively small amounts of data.
“As food fraud incidents can also impact food safety, greater emphasis on food fraud prevention has, more recently, been introduced into country-specific legislation and in the Global Food Safety Initiative,” the authors remark.
“It is anticipated that these changes coupled with the growing awareness of the devastating impact food fraud issues can have on consumers, businesses and a country’s economy, will mean that more food fraud incident data will be published by regulatory agencies in the future.”
Methods of mitigating food fraud
“Transparency Triumphs” was crowned Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trends list this year, speaking to consumers’ ongoing quest to know more about where their ingredients come from and how their food is made.
FAN urges that industry remain extra vigilant and use the best practice authenticity control measures and tools to mitigate any potential emerging threats of food fraud.
Toward this end, SwissDeCode has brought to market a variety of rapid, on-site testing solutions that are helping companies in different parts of the food supply chain to detect food adulteration, avoid food recalls and improve the trust of customers in their products.
Cloud-based software, such as Chemometric Brain’s “disruptive” near-infrared technology, is also among tools currently being explored to prevent the risk of food fraud.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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