Olive oil, fish, honey, milk, and fruit juices are common, everyday foods found in most people’s kitchens. However, these common foods may not contain the food ingredients you think. The honey in your pantry may contain antibiotics, chemicals and added sweeteners. The salmon in your refrigerator may not even be salmon, but instead may be a lesser-quality fish. The 100-percent Italian extra virgin olive oil in your pantry may contain vegetable or canola oil and may not even be from Italy. The fruit juices in your refrigerator may contain juices from rotten fruit and toxic mold. http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-business-owner-counting-money-image6670649Fish, honey, olive oil, milk, select spices (saffron, black pepper, chili powder), fruit juices, meat, grains and organic foods are among the top food products at risks for food fraud. What is Food Fraud? There is no statutory definition of food fraud, and different countries, researchers and industry groups have defined it in various ways. However, food fraud is most commonly referred to as the intentional defrauding of food and food ingredients for economic gain. Food fraud is estimated to cost the global food industry $10-$15 billion a year. Food fraud can occur in a variety of situations. Food or food ingredients may be substituted for lower-quality, inferior ingredients, or one species for another. Food ingredients may be diluted with water, or main ingredients may be omitted or removed. Some producers deceive consumers, manufactures, retailers, and governments for the sole purpose of making money. Many consumers are not interested in how the food they consume is produced or where it comes from but are more concerned about being able to purchase food inexpensively. The lack of interest and knowledge by the consumer increases the risk of food fraud by producers and manufacturers who are solely interested in making a big profit. Although the majority of food fraud cases have not resulted in death or serious illnesses, food fraud can still be a food safety concern. Food products can be substituted with a common allergen, such as tree nuts or eggs, and can cause severe adverse reactions to consumers. Unfortunately, food fraud is not a new concept and has been going on for thousands of years. In the Middle Ages, when the price of imported spices increased, merchants would substitute spices with seeds, stones or dusts. In the 18th and 19th centuries, milk was commonly diluted with water, sometimes dirty water, and colored with chalk or plaster. Over the past couple of years, there have been several reported food fraud incidents. In 2013, consumers in England, France, Greece and several other countries were duped and unknowingly purchased meatballs, burgers and other food products that contained horse meat. The suppliers of the products were aware that their products contained horse meat, but instead of declaring it on the product labels, the suppliers saw an opportunity to make money and deceive their consumers who thought they were buying beef. Several food fraud incidents have also originated in China. In 2007, a food fraud incident in China resulted in the death of a large number of dogs and cats in the U.S. after they ate pet food containing lower-cost melamine instead of the required protein. Honey manufactured in China was also discovered to contain antibiotics. After discovering antibiotics in honey manufactured in China, the U.S. imposed a tariff. However, the defrauding of consumers did not stop there. To get around paying the tariff, Chinese manufacturers started routing their honey to other countries, including India and Argentina, so the label on the honey would read “from Argentina” or “from India.” Fake eggs, contaminated baby formula, tofu fermented with sewer water, and gutter oil resold as vegetable oil are some other reported cases of food fraud in China. Food fraud incidents that occur in other countries severely impact U.S. consumers. In the past decade, the food industry has become completely globalized. Huge amounts of food products, ranging from fresh produce to fish, are imported to the U.S. In 2012, the U.S. imported 4.1 billion pounds of food products from China alone. Over the past few years, many consumers have become more conscious about what they consume and are purchasing more local and organic foods. However, even consumers who buy organic foods and foods from local farmers markets are at risk of being defrauded. Numerous “farmers” purchase produce from wholesale suppliers and resell the produce as home-grown and organic. Some produce, marketed as organic or pesticide-free, can be laden with pesticides. What’s Being Done to Regulate Food Fraud? Last year, California passed a new law aimed at combating food fraud after discovering numerous cases of food fraud at farmers markets around the state. Some of the most notable provisions of the new law include increasing the farmers market vendor’s fee, in order to hire more state inspectors to investigate food fraud, and requiring vendors to display the name and location of the farm and the statement, “We grow what we sell.” If a vendor violates this statement, they can be fined up to $2,500 and imprisoned for up to six months. This law is a good example of ways that states and even local farmers markets can get together and create laws or rules to protect one of the few places consumers can get food that comes directly from producers. The closer consumers are to the producers of their food, the harder it is for producers to defraud consumers. In addition to state laws and farmers markets rules, food fraud is broadly regulated by various federal agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Department of Justice, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. FDA and USDA are the primary agencies equipped with the statutory authority to regulate and prevent food fraud. FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of most of the U.S. food supply except for most meat and poultry products. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) contains several provisions that FDA can use to regulate and prevent food fraud and enforce related laws. Under the FFDCA, adulterated and misbranded foods are prohibited from being sold and delivered to consumers. There are a variety of statutorily prescribed reasons a food can be adulterated or misbranded. A food can be adulterated if it contains a poisonous substance injurious to human health, is missing valuable ingredients, or if there is a substitution or addition of ingredients. A food can be misbranded if it contains a false or misleading label, is sold under a different name, or is an imitation of another food. An example of a food product that is prohibited because it is adulterated and misbranded would be olive oil labeled as 100-percent extra virgin but instead contains used vegetable and peanut oil. Other provisions under the FFDCA can also be used to regulate and prevent food fraud. The FFDCA gives FDA the authority to monitor and inspect food imported for sale in the U.S. by requiring all foreign food manufacturing facilities that want to sell in the U.S. to register with FDA (with some exceptions) and give advance notice of imported shipments of food. The new food safety law, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), also contains numerous provisions that can be applied to food fraud. FDA also has authority to refuse entry of food imported to the U.S. if it appears to be misbranded or adulterated. USDA is responsible for the safety of meat, poultry and some egg products in the nation’s food supply. The Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), and the Egg Products Inspection Act grant USDA the authority to continually inspect meat, poultry and egg products intended for human consumption. This includes the inspection and evaluation of foreign meat and poultry plants that intend to sell meat and poultry products in the U.S. Similar to FDA, USDA can also regulate food fraud through prohibition of adulterated or misbranded meat, poultry and egg products, and various import standards. Producers that violate the various provisions that apply to food fraud can be subjected to criminal penalties, civil penalties and/or product seizures. Although USDA and FDA have mechanisms to identify, enforce and prevent food fraud, all cases of food fraud cannot be detected. FDA does not have the resources or personnel to physically inspect the majority of imported foods and enforce the regulations. For example, in 2011, FDA only physically inspected 2.3 percent of all food and feed imports. Additionally, even though USDA inspects meat and poultry processing plants, it’s impossible for the inspectors to check every single carcass that gets processed into meat. What’s Being Done to Track and Decrease Food Fraud? It is hard to determine how widespread food fraud is in the U.S. because those who commit food fraud want to avoid detection. However, two databases have been created that can help track food fraud incidents. The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) Food Fraud Database is a searchable database composed of both scientific and mainstream media reports on food fraud incidences. The USP database is organized by the report type, food ingredient category, food ingredient, adulterant, type of fraud and the publishing year. The second database is the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD) EMA Incident Database. This database contains documented incidences of food fraud that have occurred since 1980. Access to this database is available upon request. This database provides information about the food product, adulterant, the type of adulterant, health consequences, and how the incident was discovered. (Go here for more information about food fraud from NCFPD.) These databases can help decrease food fraud by informing consumers, manufacturers, retailers, and governments of the most common food products at risk of food fraud and types of adulterants. Retailers and manufacturers can use this information to implement stricter standards for producers of high-risk foods and food ingredients. The government can use this information to create new laws or policies to combat food fraud in the identified high-risk food products. On March 15, 2015, the U.S. government took a huge step toward decreasing the amount of food fraud occurring in the seafood industry. The Obama administration announced it was planning on implementing a system that will track the origins of every wild fish and crustacean shipped into the U.S. This system will be phased in over a two-year period. This system is a step in the right direction toward combating food fraud. However, there is still a huge disconnect between food producers and consumers that has enabled rapid occurrences of food fraud. The best way for consumers to avoid food fraud is to connect to their local producers. Consumers should take the time to get to know local producers and visit the farms where their food is purported to be grown. Food fraud incidents will continue to occur until consumers start reconnecting to the land and the producers of our nation’s food supply.

  • Kestrel

    I went to the first database mentioned, and could not see any way to find specifics useful to the consumer. I also tried the second database and did not see how one could request access to anything that would be useful for those of us trying to find out which olive oils, for example, had been shown to be fraudulent in the past. Can you give us more specific guidance about how to do that? Thank you.

  • DocB

    Food fraud is like any other crime. If the reward is low enough to be worth the risk, someone will try it. It always amazes me when people work twice as hard to avoid work. I have seen folks buy produce at a grocery store and sell it at farmers markets. Although it is unethical, I don’t believe it’s illegal because I have never heard any claims that these folks grew the produce (corn in one case) themselves. Some folks are so brazen about it, they probably resell produce in the same grocery store bag.

  • B-2814

    I think we need to be careful when discussing food fraud and note whether we are talking about incidents that happen domestically or overseas. Yes, our food supply is global. But, as an example, I wouldn’t include milk among the top foods implicated in food fraud in the US. A quick look through the databases cited shows that incidents of fraud involving milk occur most often overseas, and often with other species’ milk. Just a point of clarification so that statements like those above aren’t taken out of context.

    The other comment to make with respect to food fraud… the databases only report incidents of fraud that are identified. There is a lot more out that that we aren’t aware of.

  • Kitsy WooWoo

    “However, even consumers who buy organic foods and foods from local
    farmers markets are at risk of being defrauded. Numerous “farmers”
    purchase produce from wholesale suppliers and resell the produce as
    home-grown and organic. Some produce, marketed as organic or
    pesticide-free, can be laden with pesticides.”

    Very informative (but depressing) article. What’s an eater to do? I’ve always made sure the honey I buy is raw, unheated, and with nothing added — or so I tell myself. As for all those other food items….. 🙁

    • Alliance for Food and Farming

      Hi Kitsy: Check out the farmers’ market shoppers guide at safefruitsandveggies.com. The guide can help you choose vendors who provide food grown safely and responsibly. So keep enjoying your shopping experience and all those delicious fruits and veggies.

      • Kitsy WooWoo

        Thanks, I bookmarked your link. “Just wash it!” (???) It would be great if that’s really all we need to do.

    • CopperOwl

      When it comes to honey, it’s best to buy local honey from the person who is keeping the bees.

      • Kitsy WooWoo

        Yup, I make sure to do that. Back when my husband was alive we often visited the “honey man” in the Catskill Mts. It was great fun to watch him in action. And as I always luuuuuv(ed) a little honey on my cooked whole-grain cereals in the morning, we’d trek monstrous jars of the stuff back to the city. Soooo delicious!

  • Grow your own

    “Many consumers are not interested in how the food they consume is
    produced or where it comes from but are more concerned about being able
    to purchase food inexpensively. The lack of interest and knowledge by
    the consumer increases the risk of food fraud by producers and
    manufacturers who are solely interested in making a big profit.”

    So the lack of accountability is the consumers fault. The FDA allows these foods on the market, but it’s the consumers fault. Will the FDA tell the consumers which products are fake? You won’t even tell us which ones are GM. I hear Round Up is safe to drink, too.

    • Linda La Chance

      till they get sick, or their child gets sick and g-d Forbid dies,

  • CopperOwl

    I’m trying to figure out how someone can fake salmon. It looks, cooks, and tastes like no other fish. Salmon varieties (King, Coho, Sockeye, etc.), differ a bit, but are still recognizably salmon. It would take a lot of work to make other species look like salmon. Maybe I just don’t have a criminal mind.

    • HydrogenBond

      I know it’s common with other fish, but yeah salmon would be tricky! I have heard of people taking farmed salmon and dying them to make the meat appear deeper in color like wild caught, though.

    • deserteeyore

      They substitute farm raised for wild caught.

  • mem_somerville

    …organic foods are among the top food products at risks for food fraud….

    Are there any reports that have the data on this? I have heard the stories–and of course the giant Swaddles fraud in the EU. And that big fertilizer fraud you covered here. But is there a comprehensive piece anyone has seen?

    • Kitsy WooWoo
      • John Zohn

        And you might be interested in reading this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24968103

        • SageThinker

          This is also a very interesting paper, which shows that the crops grown with glyphosate are *not* the same as those grown without it. The endophytic bacterial population is changed by glyphosate and the plant is *not* the same plant as would be grown without the chemical.

          Isolation and characterization of endophytic bacteria from soybean (Glycine max) grown in soil treated with glyphosate herbicide

          J Kuklinsky-Sobral, WL Araujo, R Mendes… – Plant and soil, 2005

          http://rodrigomendes.tripod.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/2005ps.pdf

        • SageThinker

          This is also a very interesting paper, which shows that the crops grown with glyphosate are *not* the same as those grown without it. The endophytic bacterial population is changed by glyphosate and the plant is *not* the same plant as would be grown without the chemical.

          Isolation and characterization of endophytic bacteria from soybean (Glycine max) grown in soil treated with glyphosate herbicide

          J Kuklinsky-Sobral, WL Araujo, R Mendes… – Plant and soil, 2005

          • John Zohn

            Here’s a link of 1800 scientific studies with miscellaneous concerns about GMOs from GMO Free USA. If you post it and someone says GMO Free USA isn’t a valid source, remind them they just compiled the list of studies and weren’t associated with any of them: http://www.gmofreeusa.org/research/gmo-science-research/

          • SageThinker

            Thank you, John. I appreciate that they have a separate page relating to glyphosate. That is quite a list. I tend to use Google Scholar to find the things i am focused on, specifically glyphosate’s effects on the the gut microbiome, and to focus very specifically on good science and read the papers in depth, to make the connections i need to make.

  • Cletus DeBunkerman

    Actually the biggest food fraud of all is the way the GMO pesticide industry and the food-like products industry have conspired to keep Roundup laden GMO foods hidden in the food we feed our families.

    While 64 other countries including Europe and most of the rest of the developed world require foods containing Roundup laden GMO foods to be labeled. The GMO pesticide industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to keep these poisonous foods unlabeled and hidden in the foods we feed our children.

    Most of the GMO crops on the market were genetically engineered to use Roundup/glyphosate when they are grown. Some also express the pesticide bt in every cell of the plant including the free blowing pollen. None of them were genetic engineered to make them more nutritious or get better yields. The only reason to be GMO is to sell more pesticides for the GMO pesticide industry.

    It is impossible to differentiate the GMOs from Roundup, and there are currently Roundup laden GMOs being purposely hidden in the foods we feed our families.

    Roundup/glyphoste has recently been declared a probable human carcinogenic by The World Health Organization

    Purdue Professor Dr. Don Huber explains even though glyphosate is an herbicide, it was first patented as a mineral chelator. It mobilizes nutrients so that your body cannot absorb them. Since glyphosate was also patented as an antibiotic, it does double damage.

    He says: “When you take the good bacteria out, then the bad bacteria fill that void, because there aren’t any voids in nature. We have all of these gut-related problems, whether it’s autism, leaky gut, C. difficile diarrhea, gluten intolerance, or any of the other problems. All of these diseases are an expression of disruption of that intestinal
    microflora that keeps you healthy.”

    So glyphosate, which has been patented as both a mineral chelator and an antibiotic, both of which have tremendous implications, is being used willy nilly all over the world. All the while, the agencies which are supposed to protect public health continue to look the other way.

    The scientific journal Entropy, it was stated: “Contrary to the current widely-held
    misconception that glyphosate is relatively harmless to humans, the available evidence shows that glyphosate may rather be the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies.

    So gobble down your food filled with hidden roundup laden GMOs. More tasty carcinogens in every bite.

    • SageThinker

      I believe that the very demand for organic foods to avoid these chemicals shows the human instinct as well as group knowledge that they are harmful. Glyphosate, especially, kills plants in the same way that it kills bacteria containing the same EPSP synthase molecule, and the effect on the human gut microbiome has not been studied. I would think that to show a chemical safe for ingestion by the bulk of the world’s population, one would look at the effect on the mammalian gut microbiome. But did they? No. Not at all. They did not want to turn that stone over, for there would have been a snake there which would have made their product void, their headline product that makes them huge amount of money. Of course i am speaking of Monsanto and their Roundup Ready crop seed lines, the same Monsanto the willfully poisoned the people and ecology of Anniston Alabama with PCBs, in full knowledge as later shown by leaked documents. Not a good ethical base. And they have also come to largely own the government as relates to their product lines approval and lack of testing.

      Don’t believe the hype. The safety of glyphosate is not proven. In fact, it’s the very opposite. Very relevant research has NOT been done, which i seriously hold constitutes a huge case of criminal negligence in failure to protect public safety, for profit, same as with the PCBs in the 60s and 70s for their product called “Aroclor”. And did you know that when transformers containing Aroclor caught fire, they produced some of the most carcinogenic substances known to humankind? Seriously, that’s not good product. What can we expect from an evil company? And i use the word “evil” by its technical definition, the willingness to cause harm to the common good for personal profit.

      Glyphosate also affects the endophytic bacteria of the herbicide-tolerant GMO crops that it is used to grow. That also affects the nutritional composition of the food, in ways we do not fully understand.

      This is an interesting paper, which shows that the crops grown with glyphosate are *not* the same as those grown without it. The endophytic bacterial population is changed by glyphosate and the plant is *not* the same plant as would be grown without the chemical:

      Isolation and characterization of endophytic bacteria from soybean (Glycine max) grown in soil treated with glyphosate herbicide
      J Kuklinsky-Sobral, WL Araujo, R Mendes… – Plant and soil, 2005

      • Captain Moonlight

        The people who demand organic have more dollars than sense.

        • Cletus DeBunkerman

          The people who demand organic have better health and nutrition. They spend more money on clean food, and less on chronic health issues.

          Your comment makes you sound like a mind controlled GMO pesticide industry disinformation operative trying to talk away serious medical issues being caused but Roundup laden GMO foods which are currently hidden from us in the food we feed our families buy the corrupt GMO pesticide industry.

          • Captain Moonlight

            Organic is a con job, just like homeopathy, iridology and all the other alternative lifestyle nonsense. You’ve been sucked in by Big Org’s noise machine.

          • Cletus DeBunkerman

            Have you got some peer reviewed studies to back up your bogus claim, or are you just spewing your ignorant prejudice about something you know nothing about?

          • marcdraco

            They certainly do exist. I’m not going looking for them now because it’s late and I don’t have a dog in this race. But he’s right – peer reviewed studies have shown that organic is not better for us (and in some cases, is actually worse). Milk is probably the best example.