On the Topic of Food Fraud

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We’ve brought up the topic of fake food before, but haven’t really given it the attention it deserves. Food itself has a similar issue to medications, as the product can be compromised, as can the individual ingredients. However, we generally purchase prepared foods, as well as ingredients and foodstuffs. All of these have their own supply chains and their own issues, and their own histories with being counterfeited.

According to the Atlantic, food fraud accounts for around 5-10% of the stuff on supermarket shelves. Ingredients and foodstuffs can be deceptive about what’s actually in the container, and prepared foods can have fraudulent ingredient lists. Today we’ll be introducing food fraud, and how prevalent the issue is, even in developed nations.

You may recall back in 2013, the United Kingdom had a scandal over horse meat being present in value hamburgers. It turned out that the issue was far more widespread, and many foods were found to contain traces of horse, including chili con carne, bolognese ragu, and frozen lasagna. It severely damaged British consumers’ trust in supermarkets in general, but unlike many other industries, people need to keep buying food. Ultimately, thanks to this debacle the UK set up a national food crime unit, specifically to fight food fraud.

Now, no one wants to find out that they’ve been unintentionally eating an animal that they wouldn’t normally be eating, but horse meat isn’t necessarily dangerous (though of course, this raises questions on the origin of the horse meat, including the location and conditions under which it was produced, and whether or not food safety regulations were being met). It’s far more concerning when the ingredients are actively harmful. We mentioned in a previous blog post that in 2007 and 2008 there were issues of pets dying due to the harmful chemical melamine being present in wheat and rice glutens that were used in pet food ingredients from China. It was also found in baby formulas that were shipped around the world, and the resulting illnesses and fatalities. This resulted in a drive to increase transparency in the supply chain and enforce new safety protocols, with new laws being drafted as recently as 2015, and increased penalties for offenders across the board.  

It can be incredibly difficult for average consumers to protect themselves. Olive oil is the single most counterfeited food in the United States and has a well-publicized history of being fraudulent, cut with oils from more common plants. It’s also one of the most common cooking agents there is. Considering the oil comes from a variety of different countries, each with different methods of inspecting and enforcing food safety laws (as well as networks upon networks of organized crime), it’s almost impossible to buy a bottle of olive oil and not wonder what else is in that bottle, and as we said earlier, whether or not everything in that bottle has been handled properly. Everything you buy in a store at that point needs to be researched for hours, and no one has time for that.

According to Food Safety Net Services, there is a silver lining, depending on how you look at it. The effects of food fraud on the human body are inconclusive, and most cases of food fraud aren’t actively harmful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help to think that way when you consider that it’s not just healthy adults eating food, but those with illnesses, children, and the elderly. Additionally indirect results of counterfeiting, in general, are harmful to the market and consumer confidence (which is admittedly fickle), and ultimately it’s a reflection of how hard our governments are working to combat these issues (realistically as hard as they can).

At IDLogiq, we want to ensure that governments have an easier job of fighting food fraud, and consumers have more protections from it. We are developing blockchain-powered solutions to making the supply chain more transparent, and ensuring that food is safe to eat the world over.