The ‘trade war’ between the USA and China is really hotting up, with China having imposed import tariffs of up to 25% on US lobsters and other food products in the previous 2 months. The presence of tariffs greatly increases the risk of fraudulent cross-border activities; Food Fraud Advisors predicts that the new China tariffs will lead to significantly more food fraud within the Chinese-American trade sector as well as having a knock-on affect on food trade internationally.
There have already been allegations of fraud related to the tariff imposition in the North American lobster market. Canadian lobsters can be imported to China without incurring the tariffs imposed on lobsters from the United States. It has been alleged that lobsters grown in the USA are being shipped to Canada, re-labeled as Canadian lobsters then exported to China. Canadian lobster growers fear damage to the ‘Canada’ brand from these activities.
The strawberry scandal in Australia has hit local consumers, retailers and growers hard. It started with two consumers in the state of Queensland finding metal needles inside fresh strawberries. The affected brand and its sister brand from the same grower were pulled from shelves. Within days another needle-like object was found in strawberries from a different brand in a different state; the fruit source was completely different and the incident was labelled a ‘copycat crime’. In Australia strawberries are typically sold to consumers in clear clam-shell containers with four air holes in the top surface. The air holes are large enough to allow access to the fruit inside with a small sharp object like a needle while the strawberries are displayed on a supermarket (grocery store) shelf. Public response has been confusion; why would anyone want to do such a thing? Since then, other fruits, including apples and bananas have been similarly affected, again, in what appear to be completely independent occurrences. The food safety sector in Australia is at a loss as to how to prevent this type of incident; fruit is by necessity displayed and accessible for consumers to touch prior to purchase, leaving it vulnerable to malicious adulteration.
Meanwhile, strawberry growers in Australia, who were already struggling to get good prices for their bumper harvest, have seen demand for their fruit plummet. Media outlets have published reports about farmers who are dumping tonnes of unwanted fruit because the wholesale price has fallen below the cost of production.
Whole potatoes are generally thought to be at low risk of food fraud because of their relatively low value and because of their easily recognisable form. However, like all fruit and vegetables, they are at risk of being misrepresented with respect to their geographic origin and their variety. Growers groups have demanded that government authorities investigate allegations of potato fraud in Ireland, after a successful campaign to encourage consumption of locally-grown Queen potatoes. It has been alleged that imported potatoes and potatoes of other varieties are being re-labelled as Irish Queen potatoes, providing an economic gain for the perpetrators of this fraud.