Rice grains, melons, food coloring agents, olive oil, garlic powder, processed meat and fish, etc. are some of the food products that have been adulterated in the past with non-food and often hazardous substances with the intention of generating profits at a margin of the cost. Food fraud investigation is not an easy task to achieve and is definitely not meant for the fainthearted. Being an undercover agent by blending in with the local population takes years of practice, skill, and most importantly—patience.
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The following compilation is based on real-life experiences shared by fellow food fraud investigators, whose identities shall remain anonymous for security reasons, and deal with corruption—one of the least discussed and understudied areas of food fraud because, as seen by these few examples, it isn’t a pleasant topic.
Date: January 2005
Location: Sri Lanka
“I’ve taken up this assignment as a relief volunteer following the ghastly tsunami of December 2004. There were reports of food and water supplies not reaching the intended camps and the team felt it was opportune to act undercover. The intention was to not just collect data but to act as well—and we had to act quickly.
While I was at one of the relief camps, I noticed the food allocation wasn’t necessarily per protocol. A handful of ‘agent’ were involved in hoarding supplies to later have them either auctioned or sold to the highest bidder behind closed doors. Original packages would be removed and/or seals broken to dispense food and water into smaller containers which were later marked ‘for sale’. Desperation truly knows no bounds.”
Date: July 2010
Location: GCC, Middle East
“This was not going to be an easy assignment. We agreed to carry out investigations at the request of a private food company that suspected meat adulteration. We were navigating unchartered waters here as the rules around data releases were quite different. For the most part, what reaches and gets published by the media remains largely monitored so we had to tread cautiously. This region has multiple governing bodies behind food laws. What we didn’t expect to witness, given how stringent the rules apparently were, was how easy it was to sway reports through minimal bribes. One of the food inspectors demanded ‘all the paperwork,’ which was the lingo for more money. Without carrying out the necessary tests, a laboratory report later confirmed the imported consignment of meat as authentic Angus beef, which was quite contrary to the fact.”
Date: April 2015
“This is my second week here and I’ve been posing as a business man looking to invest in the Asian food industry. The locals are quite friendly and for the most part the markets are accessible. My area of focus is the seafood industry—in particular, exports. The longer I spend time with the owners of processing units, the more apparent it becomes that there’s a market operating in parallel—child trafficking.
Unlicensed trawlers not only carry fish from illegal and non-sustainable sources, but abducted children as well. These children are ‘auctioned’ off based on the age, gender, and race. Those with nimble fingers fetch a higher price.”
It seems the ever increasingly complex global food supply network is even more complex as food fraud investigators across the globe are encountering these cases all too often.