Food Fraud Across The Global Supply Chain

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

As the global food supply chain becomes increasingly complex, the challenges of safeguarding our food supply have increased. What is the extent of global food fraud and what are some possible solutions? By Peter Bracher, managing director, NSF International Asia-Pacific

Food fraud is a growing problem worldwide. According to the World Customs Institute, food fraud is costing over US$49 billion annually. According to Food Industry Asia, a non-profit industry association located in Singapore, food safety has become a progressively complex issue, and the rapidly changing landscape in Asia has presented a strong need for measured, multi-stakeholder conversations on this topic.

According to assistant professors Dr John Spink and Dr Douglas Moyer, at Michigan State University, food fraud can be defined as “a collective term used to encompass the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product, for economic gain.”

Specifically, they identified seven distinct kinds of food fraud: adulteration, tampering, over-run, theft, diversion, simulation, and counterfeit.

The Global Food Fraud Situation

The Global Food Fraud Situation

Increasingly globalised food supply chains and the economic motivation to provide cheaper food products have contributed to the food fraud issue, with the 2013 news articles about horse meat in beef products drawing worldwide attention to the growing problem. There have also been infamous high profile cases involving the dairy and meat industries in China as well as a series of less well-known cases such as the fox used in donkey meat and artificial eggs skilfully made from protein power and yellow dye.

Today, there exists an increasingly complex and fragmented food supply chain. Due to both its global nature and the fact that most food today no longer follows a straight line from source to fork—it is more like a supply network, tracing an ingredient back to its source has become challenging due to this increasing network of brokers, suppliers and middlemen globally.

Other trends influencing the rise in food fraud also includes cost-cutting due to competitive pressure to keep prices down, leading to the temptation to substitute ingredients, sometimes at the cost of safety and certainly at the cost of provenance and integrity. Solutions

In order to discourage food fraud on a global extent, national governments would not be enough; international cooperation and concerted action is required. In addition, suppliers, retailers and consumers as well have an equally important role to play to ensure compliance of food safety standards.

One way to do this is to through getting certification for global food safety standards such as the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) schemes. These certifications encompass monitoring the entire supply chain, which helps reduce food fraud in general, and many are adding specific requirements for food fraud avoidance.

Implementing a strong food defence plan is another way for food processors, packagers and distributors to limit intentional and malicious food tampering. This would address the prevention of purposeful contamination by malicious and intentional tampering of food by people outside the food system. Food companies at all levels of the supply chain can assess their level of food defence safety through a food defence audit by an independent third party.

Continuing The Search For Solutions

Continuing The Search For Solutions

Prevention of food fraud across the global supply chain continues to present challenges. Global food industries and regulators recognise that prevention of food fraud is vital for human health and more manufacturers and retailers know that proper prevention and detection plans are essential for success in the marketplace.

In Asia, there needs to be a combined concerted effort by businesses as well as governments to work together to develop solutions to prevent food fraud. It is important that across the supply chain the senior management understands their role in protecting their customers and their brands. Collaboration between specialist agencies, laboratories and country governments needs to be part of the solution to prevent food fraud across the supply chain in Asia and in other regions.

If we can overcome some of the inevitable barriers created by a competitive commercial environment and share more information, we will all benefit.