The Economist’s March 15th article, entitled “A La Cartel: Organized gangs have a growing appetite for food crime,” takes a look at the increased number of criminals turning their attention to food fraud activities. Some crooks who even once focused on drugs have switched to food due to the potential of better profits, as the article points out, “Not everyone is a junkie, but everyone buys food and drink.”
Unlike food defense, the intent of food fraud—which includes economically motivated adulteration (EMA)—isn’t to harm; nonetheless, it may damage public health as the related health risks are often more risky than the traditional food safety hazard because the contaminants are unconventional. Food fraud can be committed through various methods, such as dilution, substitution, mislabeling, counterfeiting, etc.
The awareness of food fraud has recently grown due in part to last year’s various meat scandals (horse, rat, donkey) that occurred across the globe. So what is industry doing to combat this emerging problem?
The issue of food fraud prevention was one of the main topics discussed at this year’s Global Food Safety Conference in Anaheim, Ca., where several members of GFSI’s Food Fraud Think Tank emphasized that an effective detection and deterrent strategy doesn’t mean more testing, but “SMART” testing: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Traceable. The group also discussed the importance of understanding vulnerabilities in order to achieve prevention. The Think Tank created two new proposed elements for inclusion in version 7 of the GFSI Guidance Document, which includes identification of risk through a vulnerability assessment followed by the creation of a vulnerability control plan to provide mitigation methods.
Framework for vulnerability assessment is also under development by USP. In the meantime, the organization’s Food Fraud Database is available. This searchable database includes fraud history by ingredient, available detection methods, and potential hazards. There’s also the NCFPD EMA Incident Database. In addition, NCFPD is collaborating with USP to evaluate the EMA vulnerability of the 1,100 monographs in the Food Chemicals Codex, a collection of quality and purity specifications and methods for food ingredients.
As the Think Tank stated, when it comes time to identify your own company’s food fraud vulnerabilities, the best strategy to have is to think like a criminal.