Health Risks of Food Fraud
The booming global trade in fake food, beverages and organic products
In 2019, more than 100 million euros worth of potentially dangerous fake food and drinks were seized by Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition and INTERPOL under Operation OPSON, and 672 individuals were arrested worldwide.
“In the best of cases, food fraud is the deception of consumers, whereby they pay for something they do not get, but in the worst cases, food fraud can result in serious harm to the public’s health,” says Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious and Organised Crime Centre.
With the value of the world’s grocery market forecast to rise to USD11.8 trillion by 2020, levels of fraudulent activity in the food and beverage industry is also set to grow.
One of the major challenges faced by branded goods companies is the threat counterfeits pose to their revenue and reputation. Consumers are also at risk from fake or tampered food or drinks that could have potentially life-threatening consequences and at the very least cause severe damage to consumer confidence.
- In 2012, 30 people were reported to have died in the Czech Republic from drinking a fake version of a local rum that was tainted with methanol.
- In 2013, Europe was gripped by a horse meat scandal when traces of horse DNA were found in many beef products.
- In 2016, a report suggested that an estimated 80% of Italian olive oil was not authentic.
Not so organic growth
Increasingly, consumers are drawn to products that are free of chemicals. Organic products are generally priced 15-30% higher than conventional products, making them a lucrative target for fraudsters. The 2017 Situation Report on Counterfeiting and Piracy in the European Union reported that the food industry saw a growth in ‘organic’ labels on products that did not actually comply with organic certification. Falsely-labelled products are particularly rampant in EU countries like Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Greece and on products such as wine and spirits, cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables and cereals.
The leading voice for organic trade in the United States, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), recently launched the Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions program, wherein organic businesses may enroll to access a prevention plan including best practices for ensuring supply chain traceability and labeling. For the past two years, the OTA has made it their priority to minimise and eliminate organic fraud both inside and outside the US.
Companies often set quality standards in conjunction with FDA regulations, which are considered robust but they would also benefit from the added security and protection that product and brand authentication solutions provide.