Food Fraud Advisors’ Principal, Karen Constable, shares her top five food frauds for 2022.
At the time of writing, we’re almost halfway through 2022. This year we have discovered some interesting frauds, and unfortunately also plenty of food frauds that occur over and over. Due to the criminal nature of food fraud, each of the examples shared here represents just a tiny proportion of the food fraud that is being perpetrated on a daily basis across the globe.
The incidents and fraud types in this list have been chosen because they pose food safety risks to consumers or are likely to be affecting large numbers of products.
- Counterfeit Wonka chocolate bars in the United Kingdom
Counterfeiting is a type of food fraud where a well-known brand of food or drink is produced by an unauthorised manufacturer and passed off as the real thing. In the case of Wonka bars, the brand owner is Nestle.
A man was caught in March 2022 for supplying counterfeit Wonka bars to retail outlets in the United Kingdom.
To make the counterfeit chocolate bars, the fraudster would have had to use heavy industrial food manufacturing machinery, which is expensive, and order custom-printed packaging, which is also expensive and can usually only be purchased in large quantities. That’s a significant financial investment.
Because of the high costs to manufacture the fake products, we can infer that the fraudster must have expected to make significant profits. We know that the risk of getting caught did not deter him because he was prosecuted for doing the same thing in 2016. In April 2022 he pleaded guilty to doing it again.
One source says that Nestle, the legitimate brand-owner, no longer makes Wonka bars. However, at least three online candy stores in my home country (Australia) are selling them today, which makes me think that there are counterfeit Wonka bars in many countries. This could be quite a big operation.
The British authorities said that some of the counterfeit bars found in the United Kingdom contained undeclared hazelnuts, which makes them seriously dangerous to allergic consumers.
- Secret tank in milk tanker fraud in Italy
This fraud is unusual. Or perhaps it happens a lot but is rarely exposed.
In this fraud, a truck used for transporting milk had been modified so that the milk could be diluted with water just prior to unloading. This allowed for milk to pass quality tests, and then to be diluted after passing the tests but before being pumped into the purchasers holding tanks.
Like the counterfeit chocolate bars, this type of fraud requires siginficant financial investment; it is expensive to make major modifications to stainless steel tanks. Only two shipments of milk were confirmed to have been affected, but it is likely that the fraud was intended to be done on a much larger scale.
This fraud poses risks to food safety because the water used to dilute the milk could be contaminated, and the tanker might not be able to be properly cleaned because of the extra hardware inside the holding tanks.
Listen to the whole (fascinating) story of how the fraud was discovered here:
- Seafood smuggling
Seafood smuggling is a ubiquitous food fraud. It happens a large scale, all the time. It is happening now, in 2022.
Seafood smuggling results in traceability problems that go right through the supply chain. It’s estimated that at least 10% of seafood in any retail outlet has been affected by food fraud at some point between harvest and store.
Governments lose money from seafood smuggling because taxes, tariffs and duties are avoided when seafood is smuggled.
Smuggled seafood is significantly more likely to have originated in illegal catch areas, or caught in excess of fishing quotas, so it puts a strain on the environment as well as having an economic cost. Smuggled seafood can also be affected by species fraud, where the fish is mislabelled.
When frozen seafood is smuggled it may also be affected by expiry date fraud too. Expiry date fraud is when old frozen seafood is relabelled so it looks ‘younger’ than it actually is.
A large seafood smuggling ring was discovered by authorities in China in February of 2022, and this is probably the tip of the iceberg when it comes to seafood smuggling.
- Organic fraud with grains and cereals from Eastern Europe
False claims about the organic (or ‘bio’) status of grains and cereals is a type of food fraud we call misrepresentation. Organic fraud in bulk commodities is probably happening frequently in 2022, exacerbated by supply chain issues from the Ukraine war.
With this type of fraud, the grains or cereals are conventionally-grown, but their documentation is forged to make it look like they are organic.
Example: a shipment of oats was seized by authorities in Italy in January 2022 because they were alleged to have been falsely labelled as organic.
- Country of origin fraud
This type of fraud occurs commonly and affects packaged retail products across many food product categories.
In Europe in 2022, there have been quite a few incidences of country-of-origin fraud and protected designated origin (PDO) fraud, including:
- A market operator in Italy was accused of country-of-origin fraud in relation to dried fish, legumes and spices which were claimed to be from Africa and Japan but which were instead from countries deemed ‘at risk’, meaning they require official clearances before being sold.
- Products including fresh fruit, vegetables, mushrooms and honey in France displayed rates of up to 30% “anomalies” in the way the origin of the food was declared. The survey focussed on food from outside of France being incorrectly declared as being French.
- Significant quantities of bulk wine and bottled wine was seized by Italian authorities who allege the wine was labelled or was going to be labelled with false claims regarding its geographical provenance.
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