The growing market for sustainable and premium foods is bringing greater risks of food fraud. The was a recent beef scandal in Brazil where the US suspended all Brazilian meat imports due to safety concerns, and this highlighted the economic impacts of food fraud. The trade ban is estimated to have cost the Brazilian meat industry over US$4 billion in lost revenue.
According to the World Health Organisation, almost 1 in 10 people get ill from eating contaminated food each year.
Organic and eco-labelled food products are at high risk from food fraud because they command a premium. Although relatively low, a number of incidents of mislabelled organic foods are coming to light.
In May 2017, it was reported that a shipment of 36 million pounds of corn and soya beans into the US was falsely labelled as organic. Starting off from Ukraine, the conventional ingredients shipment increased in value by about US$4 million (by obtaining organic status) when it arrived in California via Turkey.
The market intelligence company found Asia was most at risk from food fraud. Rising consumer spending power and growing demand for sustainable and premium foods has made Asia the fastest growing market for such products.
China has the largest organic products market in Asia; it is also the epicentre of food fraud. In the last decade, food scandals have involved mislabelled organic pork, rotten meat, and sewage oil. In 2008, the adulteration of dairy products and milk powder with the industrial chemical melamime led to six baby deaths and 300,000 sick.
Mislabelling of sustainable and premium products is rife in Asia. Some operators are making false organic claims on food products because of the lack of regulations and/or enforcement. India, the country with largest number of organic farms (0.6 million), has no laws preventing such fraudulent claims. According to a recent report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, the absence of such regulations is eroding consumer trust.
Transparency is coming to the fore, partly because consumers are keen to know about product origins, production methods, and sustainability credentials. Technology is playing an important role, with smart labels and mobile apps meeting the informational needs of consumers.
Technology is already being deployed for food authenticity and to detect fraud. Analytical tools, such as mass spectrometry and gas chromatography, are being used to authenticate premium products, such as Manuka honey, basmati rice, and extra virgin olive oil. Forensic techniques, such as DNA fingerprinting, are now making their way to food labs to check product samples.
International alliances are being formed to tackle food fraud. Announced recently, the EU-China-Safe project has European and Chinese organisations partnering to improve food safety and tackle food fraud. As well as providing safer, authentic food, the initiative aims to boost consumer confidence and facilitate food trade between the EU and China.
Such alliances are necessary to combat food fraud. A concern however is that as more fraud cases come to light, a casualty may be consumer trust in sustainable foods. In this respect, prevention—rather than cure—maybe the best course of action for the sustainable food industry.
To find out more about the Sustainable Foods Summit Singapore 2017, click here.