Collaboration Key to Tackling Global Food Fraud

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2018 by Global Food Safety Resource

By Mitchell Weinberg

After years of effort, the sad truth is that attempts to address food fraud have been largely, if not entirely, unsuccessful. When food fraud became an issue again after the melamine-in-milk scandal in China, and the horsemeat-in-lasagna atrocity in Europe, the food industry assigned responsibility for food fraud to food safety professionals and food scientists. While food fraud can sometimes present food safety problems, looking at food fraud from a strictly food safety or scientific perspective has resulted in traditional food safety and scientific approaches being used to address a problem which often has nothing to do with food safety.  Accordingly, the efforts put forth thus far to address food fraud have been marginally successful.

food fraud collaboration needed

Food fraud is a much broader issue than food safety. There are food safety concerns in relation to food fraud once in a while, but food fraud has its own issues and concerns which are disruptive to society. Food fraud is closely tied to the economy of certain countries and it could literally jeopardize their economic stability if the pervasiveness of it were discovered by food consumers. In countries that rely primarily on agricultural exports to sustain themselves, food fraud is a complicated issue: these countries are under pressure to reduce costs to remain competitive. This conflicts with the desire to produce authentic and qualitative food. How are food safety experts and scientists going to resolve these economic and cultural issues?

No one ever seems to talk about the fact that food fraud means consumers worldwide are being cheated every time they buy food, and the issue is so pervasive it touches almost every food ingredient in the world. This means that consumers are undoubtedly consuming inauthentic ingredients more than they realize. Even worse, they are paying for inauthentic ingredients that have been misrepresented as being authentic. Food safety experts and scientists simply don’t have the scope to address these issues.

If food safety experts can take one lesson from the efforts of the last 10 years, it is that they must engage with other experts and be receptive to collaborations and other opinions. The responsibility for food fraud should rest primarily with corporate risk managers and those responsible for brand protection and there must be an acknowledgement by the food industry that food fraud is no different from any other crime. This acknowledgement will ultimately lead to forensically-based approaches to counter food fraud. Food safety professionals can be consulted on an as-needed basis in cases where food fraud raises food safety issues.

Food safety professionals have one of the toughest jobs in the food industry. If they miss something, people could die. It was unfair to saddle food safety experts and scientists with the challenges of food fraud. Nevertheless, shifting to focus on greater collaboration will help support the imperative of addressing this critical global issue.

About the Author

Mitchell Weinberg is CEO of INSCATECH, a company that provides forensically-based undercover investigations, vulnerability assessments, supplier qualification examinations, validated supply chain mapping, and food fraud vulnerability control programs. He is also the founder of the International Food Authenticity Assurance Organization (IFAAO), an organization  made up of stakeholders from both within and outside the food industry that aims to create positive change in how food authenticity is handled globally. The organization was awarded Observer Status by Codex Alimentarius in 2017.

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