“Education costs money. But then so does ignorance.”—Sir Claus Moser
I don’t usually begin my post with a quote, but Sir Claus Moser hits the nail on the head.
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On an average, there are at least 2,000 people behind a simple meal. This number grows exponentially if one attempts to map out the number of individuals between transfers or logistics, packaging, repackaging, labeling, and many other processes involved in the magnificent web that is the food industry.
In this web, there appear to be many windows of opportunities that are more often than not, intended to cause harm for personal benefit. This window, which is better termed as food fraud, is something that most people fail to spot when it presents itself. Below are some reasons why.
A Local Perspective for a Global Challenge
Technology isn’t region specific anymore and neither is food. We anticipate the problem to arise from one particular area on the map that is usually the source of the food product. However, what typically goes unnoticed is that the problem surfaces when it “exchanges hands” during transportation and logistics. Monitoring procedures shouldn’t show a gradient from developing nations to first world countries. Your radar will only show you as far as its radius extends.
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Leaning Towards to Con Rather than to Comply
There are some honest small scale food businesses out there that simply want to produce and sell products they are passionate about. When it’s time to forecast the budget, a large chunk of the pie occasionally has to be dedicated to certifications to demonstrate compliance. But with more emphasis being laid on the ever-changing legislative requirements, and lesser efforts to ensure consistency or regulated supply to cope with rising demands, sometimes the suppliers find themselves on crossroads and pick the path that they can afford.
As much as databases are informative, I personally find them somewhat limiting. For the most part, food safety and food defense tools were designed as a reactive response as opposed to a proactive approach. Our gaze is set on food products that we anticipate to be adulterated or tampered with based on the frequency of their occurrences and other factors such as demand, resources availability, political climate, etc. In this cloak and dagger operation, a smart food fraud investigator knows better than to look at hiding spots that have already been uncovered.
Motives May Not Always be Commercial Gain
Very rarely is food fraud an independent activity. It relies heavily on forged labor, business relationships, social-economic factors, and sometimes alternate motives such as terrorism. The Food Safety Modernization Act addresses this through food defense contained within the Intentional Adulteration section for those who want to cause intended harm.
That being said, only small pockets of the food industry are investing in food fraud prevention and/or control and usually they are the ones that can afford a program.
Stay tuned as my next month’s blog will dive deeper into a day in the life of a food fraud investigator.
Camila Kersten says
Great article! I wanted to know the source for this data: “On an average, there are at least 2,000 people behind a simple meal.”
It’s really an impressive number if you want to think about the reliability of this massive network.
Thanks in advance.
Judy Sebastian says
Thanks for visiting the blog.
The number may seem a tad exaggerated but it’s based from past traceability and source audits in and around the Asian subcontinent and the Middle East.
To give you an example, a cup of coffee could be broken down to its components – coffee beans, sugar, milk (or creamer, based on your preferences) and other add-ons or condiments like spices for spiced brews. If you try to map the source, you’ll find yourself looking at plantations, farms, processing and packaging units, approval agencies, folks behind supply chains, distributors, labeling experts, marketing agencies, stores, up until the end user.
This estimate can be witnessed within countries relying on imported food.