Happy New Year and welcome to 2020. Last year included many pleasing, positive developments in food fraud prevention. More and more people from within the international food industry are becoming aware of the prevalence of food fraud and becoming better educated about the risks it poses to consumers and businesses. There were new developments in technology and more enforcement activities, plus awareness has continued to spread to peripheral industries and unconventional marketplaces. Food Fraud Advisors and our sister company Authentic Food launched new products and continued to serve our growing customer community across the globe. Thank you for your support in 2019. I look forward to serving you in 2020.
Karen Constable, Principal Consultant, Food Fraud Advisors
Better assessments and tests
Food safety professionals are becoming more comfortable with performing food fraud vulnerability assessments and I have seen the quality of assessments improve markedly in the past year. Food laboratories are also gaining more expertise in food authenticity testing. Better test methods have been developed, and this is helping the labs to do their jobs more easily, but for me I think the most important thing is that laboratory sales personnel are becoming better at understanding the needs of their food business customers when it comes to food fraud detection.
New food fraud prevention strategies
The past year saw significant increases in proactive prevention initiatives that extend beyond typical anti-counterfeit tools. As an example, a famous Scottish salmon brand has recently implemented a chemical ‘fingerprint’ system to allow them to pursue suppliers of inauthentic product across their growing global supply chain. BeefLedger is a new provenance verification product, which supports Australian beef exporters through the use of blockchain technology.
In India, there has been an ongoing effort by the media to publicise food adulteration problems in that country. In response, government authorities are tackling the problem head on, with the aim of increasing trust in the food supply. Indian news outlets feature stories of seizures and shutdowns of illegal food outlets on an almost daily basis. Tea, spices, ghee, jaggery, cooking oil and milk are often affected. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has promised to reimburse the cost of food fraud testing for consumer samples tested by credible consumer organisations.
The food crime unit in the UK benefitted from more funding last year, which increased its investigative capacity and its ability to train people in other agencies on food fraud awareness and intelligence handling.
In Europe there appears to be a growing acceptance that some organised crime groups are actively choosing to include food fraud operations within their money-making portfolios. Although this type of operation may not be the norm, it does occur and acknowledgement of the problem is an important step in the fight to intercept and control such crimes.
Operation Opson, a joint operation between Interpol, Europol and national law enforcement agencies was run again in 2019, for the eighth year. Operation Opson sees fraudulent food, drink and supplements investigated, located and seized by authorities across the globe, from sub-Saharan Africa to South America. The categories of items seized most often in 2019 were illicit alcohol, cereals (grains) and condiments. This year also included targeted actions that focussed on organic foods, coffee and 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DNP), an illegal fat-burning supplement that has caused multiple fatalities in recently years.
In the USA, enforcement activities are also on the rise. In 2019 there were a number of high profile prosecutions of business owners in the seafood, beef and pet-food industries. The implementation of the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) has improved the standard of knowledge about food safety hazards and controls across the food industry in that country. Also in 2019, many USA food companies were required to meet the International Adulteration (IA) rule of FSMA for the first time. The rule is designed to prevent malicious threats to public health from food adulteration. While the IA rule is not technically related to food fraud, it has made an important contribution to the concept of food safety. As the new decade unfolds, I predict we will continue to expand our understanding of food safety; from our historical focus on natural and accidental contaminants to wider awareness of the risks posed by deliberate, human-mediated hazards.
The good news continues, with 2019 witnessing a small but subtle shift in the willingness of online marketplace owners to talk about the problem of counterfeit goods in general, and counterfeit foods, drinks and supplements in particular. There has been a change in the discourse around counterfeit products which increasingly addresses safety issues in addition to financial costs. While many consumers and retailers continue to tolerate, or even seek out, counterfeit fashion items, more businesses are becoming aware of the prevalence of unsafe counterfeit supplements, foods and electronic components in online marketplaces. And as awareness grows, I expect enforcement and preventive activities to follow; resulting in gradual improvements to the way we source and supply goods online.
Beyond food and drink
The food industry’s anti-fraud crusade has spilled over into related industries, including agricultural chemicals and packaging materials. These two global heavy-weights are benefitting from the food industry’s food fraud awareness and prevention strategies of recent years. As an example, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) included raw material fraud prevention activities in its most recent Packaging Materials Standard. In pesticides, Operation Silver Axe resulted in the seizure of 550 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides across Europe.
Our year in review
Last year Food Fraud Advisors passed the 2000 downloads milestone for our tools and templates. We continue to receive wonderful feedback and rave reviews for our tools, templates and downloads.
We have customers in 48 countries, from large multinational food conglomerates to small start-ups, and everything in between. While most are food manufacturers, this year we have had more customers from businesses peripheral to food production, such as brokers, logistics businesses and packaging manufacturers. Students and consultants continue to make up a small but significant proportion of our online learning community.
With our sister company, Authentic Food, we developed and launched the Intentional Adulteration Vulnerability Assessment Tool in June. It filled an important gap for businesses in the USA, as there are few resources to help meet the requirements of the new FSMA IA rules and regulations.
Our vulnerability assessment tool for packaging materials was launched in November. This tool is designed specifically to meet the requirements of BRC Packaging Materials Issue 6 which, for the first time, includes requirements to address food-fraud-like issues within the supply chain of packaging materials. Purchasers of the packaging vulnerability assessment tool also receive a free threat assessment tool that generates a product defense plan for site security and product safety.
Our free Food Fraud Risk Information Database continues to grow. It currently contains more than sixty five thousand words.
My favourite thing about 2019 was having the opportunity to interact with so many intelligent and resourceful food safety professionals from all over the world, as we work together to make our food supply safer for everyone. I look forward to more of the same this year.