In the vast array of issues which can be faced in the whole food supply chain, the GFSI Food Fraud Think Tank considered four categories related to food integrity. Distinguishing between these categories requires putting oneself in the place of the person at the source of the issue. Is the action deliberate or unintentional? If unintentional, it is a food safety issue, when consumer health can be harmed, or simply a food quality issue.
Food fraud was defined as an intentional act with motivation for economic gain. There are various types of food fraud, such as adulterant substances and counterfeiting (intellectual property rights infringement).
But when the action is intentional, then the behaviour can be considered a crime. When the motivation of the criminal is to harm people, the type of action falls in the field of “Food defence”
according to the GFSI Food Fraud Think Tank. It can be even qualified as terrorism when the action aims at gravely disturbing public order. When the intention is only economical, the action can be considered as food fraud.
Food fraud: an action “intentionally causing a mismatch between food product claims and actual food product characteristics, either by deliberately making claims known to be false or by deliberately omitting to make claims that should have been made.”
As most food products are produced and sold according to relevant regulations and requirements, food fraud also occurs when some aspect of the production violates these requirements or
Based on the definition of food fraud the GFSI Food Fraud Think Tank developed, it identified a series of seven different types of frauds, as shown in Figure 2. Some of these terms have been
defined in the CEN Workshop Agreement.
Substitution is the “process of replacing a nutrient, an ingredient or part of a food (often one with high value), with another nutrient, ingredient or part of food (often one with lower value).”
Examples of substitutions are substituting low value fish species for how value fish species when selling processed products (fillets, fish pies, etc.), substituting milk protein with hydrolysed leather
protein or sunflower oil partially substituted with mineral oil.
Dilution is ‘the process of mixing a liquid ingredient (solute) with high value with a liquid of lower value’. The action addition of water to Not-from-concentrate (NFC) fruit juice or to milk is an
example of this.
Unapproved enhancement is the “process of adding unknown and undeclared compounds to food products in order to enhance their quality attributes”. The melamine in milk falls under this
category, as adulteration with melamine in milk products aimed at enhancing nitrogen content in already diluted milk. Use of unauthorised additives, such as Sudan dyes in spices, is another
example of unauthorised enhancement.
Concealment is the “process of hiding the low quality of food ingredients or products”. Injecting poultry with hormones to conceal disease is an example of this, as well as meat treated with
Mislabelling is a special case of food fraud. It concerns the process of putting false claims on packaging for economic gain. Selling farmed salmon as wild salmon, or conventional fresh produce
as organic are examples of this fraud. Expiry date modifications fall under this category. However, mislabelling may apply to all forms of food fraud: to be efficient, a fraudulent product must indeed be “mislabelled” to be purchased by a buyer. But the expression is mainly used to indicate distortion of the information provided on the label.
The fundamental driver of food fraud is financial gain – it is possible to make more money from food fraud than from the illegal narcotics trade. The occurrence of food fraud requires only a motivated party and an opportunity. Key drivers likely to impact the UK in the next five to 10 years include the EU exit, consumer demand, lack of enforcement (which is currently an issue due to COVID-19 restrictions), complex supply chains and low penalties, among others.
Opportunities for food fraud exist at numerous stages of the supply chain before the product reaches the consumer. To prevent food fraud, it is crucial to identify and reduce system weaknesses. This task can be divided into three stages: detect, deter and prevent. Detection of the substance or product anomaly is followed by a targeted countermeasure to deter this specific type of fraud. Prevention requires the implementation of countermeasures that reduce the opportunity for fraud. Authenticity testing is vital at each of these stages to support and reinforce prevention.
In authenticity testing, it is vital that the entire workflow is accurate and reliable, from sampling methods to equipment calibrations, in order to ensure reliable data. A robust method and high-quality reference materials can help to ensure this. Reference materials produced under the scope of ISO 17025 and ISO 17034 accreditation, covering the food and environmental sectors. These are designed to support authenticity testing for food fraud detection, deterrence and, ultimately, prevention.
Implementing this prevention strategy on a large scale will require efforts across the whole food supply chain. There are different considerations for food companies and suppliers, including customer and legal requirements, but familiarity with the basics of food fraud prevention and further education and training are crucial.
The Food Authenticity Network (FAN) brings together information on food fraud and food authenticity testing to ultimately increase consumer confidence. Originally set up by the Central Government of the country. The FAN is a resource providing curated news on food authenticity-testing topics, tools and guides for food fraud mitigation, and training materials for authenticity testing. In response to the potential increased opportunity for food fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, the website has collated information and signposted other resources to help inform and prevent.
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