Learn how to fight food fraud
Food fraud is a growing issue around the world, affecting a significant portion of the items on grocery store shelves. For the final post in ModVegan’s series on luxury foods, we’ll be examining the issue of counterfeit and adulterated food.
Food fraud has become an increasingly popular topic in the news. A few years ago it was barely mentioned, but this article from the CBC indicates that is now a $1.2 Trillion industry. Up to 10 percent of the goods in grocery stores may be fraudulent, and for luxury products the numbers are much, much higher.
Chris Elliot, the professor interviewed for the CBC piece, argues that more Manuka honey is sold in the UK each year than is produced in all of New Zealand (meaning that the vast majority of it is clearly fake). Only about 20% of Manuka honey is genuine, meaning your chances of getting ripped off are better than 1 in 5.
In the case of Manuka honey, customers are being duped into overpaying for regular honey, so while the practice is dishonest, it’s not usually dangerous. Unfortunately, food fraud can also lead to illness and death. We all remember the controversy a few years ago when a factory in China was adding melamine to its infant formula. That particular incident led to the hospitalization of 54,000 children and 11 deaths (source: Wikipedia).
Criminal organizations and individuals turn to food fraud because the penalties are lower than for other crimes, such as drug trafficking. And the profits can be nearly as high, especially for luxury foods.
Avoid being a victim of food fraud
Common sense is really your best protection to avoid food fraud. Local produce is the safest choice. After that, produce in general is a good choice because it’s kind of hard to fake a banana! If you eat a plant based diet, you are ahead of the game, because rice, legumes and fresh produce are virtually impossible to fake.
Of course, most of us eat processed food at times, so when you do, it’s best to choose foods from brands that you trust. Even with trusted brands, it’s important that they carefully source their ingredients. Unless a company is extremely conscientious about its supply chain, there are ample opportunities for illegal activity, so use caution when buying no-name olive oil, for example.
The most commonly counterfeited foods are honey (which is often adulterated with corn syrup), virgin olive oil (vegetable oil dyed green), herbs (bulking agents and artificial colouring), wine and spirits (fake labels and adulterated alcohol), meat (often not what is on the label – this is much less of a concern with meat purchased from the butcher – it’s the meat found in processed foods that is frequently poor quality or of unknown origin).
Rare cheeses are often faked, and a whole host of other foods often contain undeclared adulterants, like clouding agents in juice. And due to the high price of many of the fish used in sushi, unscrupulous people often substitute cheaper fish, in hopes that customers won’t notice.
It can be scary to think how vulnerable we are to food criminals. When it comes to luxury foods, it’s important to consider how much people stand to gain by counterfeiting a particular food. Criminals gravitate towards high-margin counterfeits (such as Louis Vuitton handbags and Manuka honey). By being particularly careful when it comes to these expensive products, you can protect yourself. Other than that, the best thing to do is to eat whole foods and buy local where possible. Eating healthy, whole plant foods is actually the best way to ensure you don’t get fooled (and it’s good for you too!).