How do you prevent sustainable food fraud?

By Nichola Murphy
Wednesday, 13 September, 2017

The demand for sustainable and premium foods has increased, and with it, the risk of food fraud. Supply chains could be at fault, according to Ecovia Intelligence, and the company suggests greater transparency, new technologies and global alliances could be the solution.

Ecovia Intelligence believes Asia has the highest risk of food fraud due to the fact that it has the fastest growing market of sustainable and premium products. China has the largest organic products market in Asia, and in 2008, dairy products and milk powder were contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, which led to six baby deaths and 300,000 sick.

While health issues are a huge factor in food fraud, the beef scandal in Brazil highlighted the economic impact of it. The scandal saw federal inspectors accused of accepting bribes to allow expired meats to be sold and falsifying sanitary permits, which led to the United States implementing a trade ban that cost the Brazilian meat industry about US$4 billion in lost revenues.

Organic and eco-labelled food products are at high risk from food fraud because they command a premium. For example, in May 2017, a shipment of 36 million pounds of corn and soya beans, which originated in Ukraine and was transported via Turkey, increased in value by US$4 million simply by obtaining a false organic status.

With long supply chains inevitably increasing the vulnerability of mislabelled and contaminated food, there is a need to regulate the handling of these products worldwide. However, in countries such as India, which has 0.6 million organic farms, there are no laws to prevent false claims about organic products.

This has led to the need for more advanced technology to analyse food authenticity, and greater transparency and global uniformity.

Improved transparency is being supported by technological developments including: tracking tools such as QR codes, barcodes and NFC tags to track food products from farm to fork; analytical tools such as mass spectrometry and gas chromatography to authenticate premium products such as Manuka honey; and forensic techniques such as DNA fingerprinting to check product samples.

Countries are also collaborating in the effort to tackle these issues. The EU-China-Safe project has European and Chinese organisations partnering to improve food safety and address fraud. This aims to provide safer food to consumers, provide peace of mind about food products and facilitate food trade between the EU and China.

Another new initiative attempting to prevent, detect and disrupt food crime is the Global Alliance on Food Crime.

Although these alliances are useful in combating food fraud, it is clear that consumer trust in sustainable foods needs to be the priority. Ecovia Intelligence suggests that prevention rather than cure could be the best course of action for the sustainable food industry.

To promote greater transparency, Ecovia Intelligence will be hosting workshops addressing food fraud and authenticity at the Sustainable Foods Summit in São Paulo and Singapore.

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