Do you really know what you are eating?
Food fraud is a growing problem, perhaps not as dangerous as drug fraud and sometimes amusing if you are not the one getting scammed. There is currently no legal definition of the term but it is generally accepted that food fraud is an intentional action carried out for financial gain. Different types of food fraud include adulteration, counterfeiting, substitution and deliberate mislabeling of goods. The British and Americans are working hard to identify products that are not what the labels describe. For example:
• Cheese pizza containing no cheese but vegetable oil and whey.
• Cupcakes with plastic icing.
• Fake vodka with alcohol made from isopropanol in anti-freeze.
• Prawns that were half water.
• Beef substituted for lamb.
• Seven of 120 samples advertised as red snapper were actually red snapper
• Consumers in China found out laboratory tests of their popular donkey meat contained the DNA of cheaper fox meat.
• Chicken labeled as ham.
• Cheap oils dyed and flavored to be sold as expensive extra virgin olive oil.
• Farm raised salmon sold as wild.
The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, an important entity protecting food and drug purity, reports the amount of fake ingredients has increased by 60 percent in the last year. The U.K. Food Standards Agency (FSA) has estimated that 10% of the food we buy off the shelf may be adulterated.
In seven editions of my book, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, I described hundreds of ingredients added to food to fool the eye, nose and tongue. When it comes to finding products deliberately masquerading and sold as more expensive foods, it is an identity problem. Government inspectors are kept busy and frustrated: Not only do they have to detect fraudulent food, they must have laboratory proof of the fraud. There are not sufficient inspectors or money world-wide to do an effective job.
The high prices of products like beef and seafood entices the unscrupulous to slip in cheaper substitutes and make a larger profit. Criminal gangs are increasingly entering the food fraud business. It is easier than the drug trade and less dangerous. After all, it is hard to trace back to identify the one of the many suppliers who added something to ground beef such as recycled animal by-products, wild game, rat meat, pink slime, (a cheap filler made by removing scraps of meat from bones) or other unsavory ingredients
Many countries, furthermore, impose only commercial fines for food fraud— not criminal charges.
It is also difficult and expensive to improve regulations. For example, Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requires retailers, such as full-line grocery stores, supermarkets, and club warehouse stores, to notify their customers about the source of certain foods. Covered commodities include muscle cut and ground meats: beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng. There are exemptions to the rule. Food operations such as restaurants, cafeterias, food stands, butcher shops and fish markets do not have to label their foods. Grocery stores that sell less than $230,000 a year also do not need to provide this labeling.
Ever since the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule for mandatory COOL went into effect in March 2009, the meat, chicken and grocery lobbies have been trying to get the law repealed maintaining it is too cumbersome, expensive and useless.
Such additives as coloring, flavoring and scent may, in a way, be considered deceiving but that is not quite the same as substituting cheaper or even dangerous ingredients for more expensive edibles and falsifying the labels.
What can you do about food fraud?
If you are a consumer or food worker and you suspect food fraud, you can contact:
UK‘s Food Standards Agency at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
US Department of Agriculture at http://www.usda. Gov.
The United States Pharmacopeia Convention and their website www. FoodFraud.org
Your identity is promised to be protected and since the importation of food is from many countries. The agencies might, if they investigate, have world-wide impact.
And remember, if a product’s price is too good to be true, it is probably not.