The Implications of Food Fraud

Industry Insights

As we write this, there are more news reports every day of new products that have been found to contain horse meat in the European horse meat scandal. Horse meat substitution is unfortunately only the most recent example of food fraud, and horse isn’t the only meat being substituted. According to the Daily Mail on February 25, seven in 10 lamb kabobs sold in British takeout restaurants were bulked up with cheaper meats. Food Manufacture reported on March 14 that pork DNA had been found in a school’s halal chicken sausages. Yahoo! News reported that 90 percent of South African kudu (antelope) jerky was actually horse, pork, beef, giraffe, kangaroo—or even endangered mountain zebra.

Food comprises a globally distributed infrastructure, with the U.S. both importing from and exporting to more countries in food and agriculture than in any other sector. Importing large quantities of food products from other countries makes us reliant upon the food safety systems of those countries. Regulatory or quality assurance deficiencies in any part of the food supply chain can leave us vulnerable to contamination or adulteration. Increased prices can also leave the food supply vulnerable to adulteration since they can result in changes to the supply chain structure. Ensuring food safety requires identifying and mitigating potential risks along the supply chain. Food safety demands that these risks be identified and they can only be addressed if there is a good understanding of the supply chain and the product is authentic. Furthermore, the need for food defense is heightened by the globalized supply chain, and the possibility of deliberate contamination and adulteration—either with the intent to cause harm or generate extra profit. Since we cannot have complete food safety without effective food defense, food quality cannot be assured without a comprehensive food protection program that addresses both food safety and food defense.


Food fraud, or what the FDA calls economically motivated adulteration (EMA), is the intentional sale of food products that are not up to recognized standards for economic gain. This includes the addition of inferior or foreign substances to a food, dilution with water, or the intentional mislabeling of food products. Food fraud may be receiving heightened media attention in recent months, but it is an old problem that was addressed by U.S. food laws as far back as 1784. While usually harmless, some food fraud incidents have resulted in serious public health consequences, and they illustrate vulnerabilities in regulatory and quality assurance systems that could be exploited for intentional harm.

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