Food fraud cases growing; becoming more serious

FoodCollage_blogOver the past few years, food fraud is gaining interest as an emerging risk for consumers as the food supply chain becomes increasingly global and more complex. Defined as the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain, experts say nearly all ingredients listed on a food label have the potential to be vulnerable to food fraud.

“Around the world, food fraud is an epidemic. In every single country where food is produced or grown, food fraud is occurring,” Mitchell Weinberg, a former attorney, and founder of a food fraud detection agency, said in a recent article. He added that food fraud is much more prevalent than most American consumers understand and that affects everything from seafood to milk, spices and even food coloring — anything with “even a moderate economic value.”

While food fraud is not a new phenomenon, experts believe that it appears to be worsening these days. Evidence of laws against food fraud can be found dating back to the 13th century, but recent years have seen a rise in the number of fraud cases involving deadly adulterants, as well as an increase in fraudulent labeling and legal prosecution for food fraud.

For example, in June, more than 100,000 tons of smuggled, frozen, expired meat — some of it decades old — was seized in China from groups selling it for consumption, the article states. In addition, investigators found areas in China producing fake rice out of plastic resin and sweet potato.

“Three cups of this rice is equivalent to eating a plastic shopping bag,” Weinberg said in the article.

But that’s not all. Due to the global walnut crop failures last year, an increase in fraudulent peanut substitution was also found, and in South Africa, an enormous recall of supermarket products occurred after they were found to be colored with banned dyes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has an estimated 200 agents across the globe investigating, most of who came from the Secret Service or the FBI. According to the article, the scope of their investigation involves food fraud, product tampering, and the manufacture of counterfeit or unapproved drugs.  More so, food fraud is an indication of other illegal activities companies may also involve in.

In big fraud cases, FDA prosecutors may charge companies with everything from conspiracy (if more than one person worked together to deceive) to mail fraud (if the fraudulent items were shipped). Worldwide, INTERPOL tracks food fraud activities in 47 countries, and includes the tracking of counterfeit alcohol, bottled water from unclean sources, and fish treated with hydrogen peroxide to fake freshness.

The article explains, however, the best way U.S. companies can protect themselves from receiving fraudulent food is to inspect their food suppliers or find another method to monitor their activities to make sure that no fraud is taking place. No other efforts can deter misbehavior like the threat of losing business, Weinberg said.

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