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Letter From the Editor: Food Fraud

Opinion

Put a gun to my head to make me talk about food fraud and I am probably going to begin babbling about honey and horsemeat.

Food fraud is a subject associated with food safety based on simple logic. If you are going to engage in food fraud, in all likelihood you don’t give a crap about food safety.

Food Safety News has done enough with food fraud to have generated attention from an experienced production company for reality television looking to do a series on the subject. Believe it or not, they’re even looking here for on-air talent. With my face for print media, I will say no more about that because I wouldn’t want to ruin anybody else’s chances. But, food fraud was back in the news last week.

Bloomberg Businessweek published a story entitled “Dirty Honey: Uncovering the Largest Food Fraud in U.S. History,” by writer Susan Berfield. It was a nicely told tale about how two employees of the Hamburg-based ALW Food Group were convicted in the U.S. for “honey laundering.”

While it was a new story on this specific case, the Bloomberg report did not come as any surprise to Food Safety News readers. That is because, two years ago, we were honored to have two-time Pulitzer prize winner Andrew Schneider from Seattle doing some work for us on that very subject. Late in 2011, he did a pair of stories for Food Safety News on laundering Chinese honey that have generated hundreds of comments and continue to be read to this day. We were not as exclusive, but we’ve also been on Europe’s horsemeat scandal in which organized crime was successful in moving the cheap substitute into the pricy beef market, where they made a killing until it was shut down.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how U.S. tariffs on Chinese honey and the big price spread between horsemeat and beef made those commodities ripe for food fraud. But, other than suspecting how the butcher on the corner might be grinding old cuts into hamburger or that fish market is trying to substitute one fish you cannot identify from another, what’s our early defense against fraud?

With some hands across the pond, FoodquestTD and Head Consultancy have teamed up to create a software platform that offers the food industry the architecture for cutting losses from fraud.

“Food Fraudster” will roll out Tuesday and it will offer food companies an option that might well shield them from the $10 to $15 billion a year that food fraud costs the industry, according to a 2010 study commissioned by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

It’s complicated, but Bruce Becker at FoodquestTD and Dr. Jo Head at Head Consultancy did an extensive analysis of the horsemeat food fraud scandal and came up with predictive factors. Some of these, such as price, were predictable, and others less so. But if understood like they’ve got it put together, Food Fraudster should make the bells go off and the lights come on when something suspicious is going on.

Initially, Food Fraudster will be set up to work on six commodities thought to be the most prone to food fraud, including counterfeiting, adulterating or mislabeling of a food product . Those six are: fish, beef, olive oil, honey, cocoa, and rice.

Interestingly, they will be able to tell who is likely to be on the other end of the fraud, major gangster or small-time opportunist. Both are out for economic gain, but how one handles it might well differ.

Food Fraudster is another information tool for the food industry from FoodQuestTQ and its cross-Atlantic partner. Based on its past record of sharing much of its analyzed data with the news media, I’m hopeful that, somewhere down the line, we’ll gain some insight into trends in food fraud.

And the developers of this new software platform believe that the more food fraud is cut out of the system, the safer and higher-quality our food it will be. That’s the kind of reality that it would be good to see on TV, for a change.

© Food Safety News
  • Paul

    Seafood is another area where food fraudviscrspant. Phosphates and 15 to 20% undeclared water is added.

  • Kamia Taylor

    The simplest solution to food fraud is to a) grow and harvest your own, or b) if that’s not a viable option, at least to purchase from a local farmer who you know, so that you can verify exactly what it is that they’re selling you. You’ll note that it’s the large, imported food suppliers that have the most to gain from this sort of rip off.