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The food sector has a significant direct role in human well-being through the provision of authentic food fit for human consumption.
Throughout history, governments and the food industry have endeavoured to protect consumers from adulteration and falsification of food, which has been present in food supply chains as long as people have been trading and consuming food through regulation and enforcement actions.
What is Food Fraud
Fraud in the food and feed chain is defined as food or feed products which have been deliberately placed on the market for financial gain, with the intention of deceiving the customer or consumer.
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The prevalence of fraud can be explained by the complex nature of our globalised food and feed supply chains and the economic motivation to provide cheaper food products.
Today, the modern day supply chain allows ingredients and products to be sourced and transported among a range of countries and supply chain players for raw materials, processing, and retail. Each aggregator, shipper, or wholesaler who collects, plans, or repackages can change the identity, purity, and authenticity of the ingredients.
The complexity of this globalised food supply chain creates opportunities for continued fraudulent activity arising from difficulties and fraud surveillance, coupled with rising prices, scarcity of raw ingredients, the competitive nature of the food industry, the constant drive to reduce costs and maximise profits, and the customer’s desire for variety and access at low cost means illegal, fraudulent activities and/or products tempt players in the supply chain in order to sustain their market.
Although the intention for fraud is financial gain, it can have a number of additional consequences which are of increasing concern following recent media coverage of food fraud crisis’:
- Cheats the customer for financial gain
- Denies the rights of customers and consumers to make an informed choice, especially if based on ethical issues
- Reduces consumers’ trust in the food chain
- Creates economic and sustainability concerns evident in food and food businesses, which are hit with the cost of recalling products and the subsequent impact on brand reputation
- Places pressure on small to medium sized enterprises to purchase cheaper ingredients in order to compete and sustain their business
- Introduces the unknown into the supply chain– for example, potential contaminants which can lead to severe illness or death, depending on the potency of the materials used and the susceptibility of the animal or consumer.
Surveillance and Mitigation Measures
The act of food fraud is undertaken to go unnoticed. This can make surveillance and mitigation measures difficult to assign and requires a proactive approach as countermeasures can become redundant very quickly.
The following mitigation measures are advocated in the scientific literature to help reduce the number of opportunities to exploit the food chain:
- Vulnerability Assessment
The aim of mitigation and surveillance is to make food and feed production, manufacture, retail and food service environments hostile and difficult for the offender to operate in. In order to do this, the literature expresses the need to predict important long term issues, assign appropriate control measures and ensure effective preventative action using vulnerability analysis critical control point (VACCP) principles.
- Detection Methods
The ever evolving nature of opportunistic fraud also requires detection methods to test food and feed authenticity. The methods applied across the food chain include: spectroscopy, isotopic analysis, chromatography, electric nose, polymerase chain reaction, enzyme linked immunosorbent assay and thermal analysis, and their combination with multivariate data analysis software. These methods must be evaluated in full for ease of use, rapidity and cost whilst surviving the rigours of a legal process to provide a sufficient deterrent.
It is of utmost importance that deterrence of food fraud is implemented by each player in the supply chain and verified and governed by suitable guardians such as regulatory bodies and recognized third party certification schemes.
- Task Forces
The nature of fraud in the food and feed chain and current information gaps makes evaluating and assigning effective and efficient countermeasures one of the most challenging aspects of assuring product integrity across the supply chain. Thus, task forces and working groups are increasingly coming together to mitigate against fraud.
The fight against fraud is difficult. But with the use of good analysis and good intelligence, together with efforts of the industry and police forces we can reduce the opportunities and address the vulnerabilities in the food system.
What we would like you to do
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below:
- Can you think or find any examples of fraud in our food chains globally? What where the consequences?
- Do you think fraud in the food and feed chain is a cause for concern or action?
You may want to conduct your own internet search to help find some examples of fraud in our feed and feed chain.
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Introduction to Food Science
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