BY GRANT COCHRANE
Food fraud costs British families as much as £1.17 billion per year. Up to a third of UK food products tested have been found to be mislabeled, including minced beef adulterated with pork or poultry; counterfeit vodka; and fruit juice containing additives not permitted in the EU.
As scandals continue to hit the headlines, consumers are losing trust in the food they buy and are increasingly demanding proof of provenance. For brands, the impact is felt on their bottom lines – a single food fraud incident can cost up to 15% of a company’s annual revenue – not to mention damage to their reputation.
Weak links within the supply chain
Attractive commercial incentives, relatively few repercussions and poorly enforced regulation make food fraud an attractive proposition for those looking to make quick money. Our globalised food supply means that produce often crosses several borders, and changes hands multiple times, as it makes its way from farm to fork. With each exchange, there is an opportunity for food to be adulterated or substituted with cheaper alternatives.
For food manufacturers, especially those who rely on pre-made ingredients, it can be almost impossible to guarantee the provenance of their products. For consumers, this means putting a lot of faith in the food label – ground almonds secretly swapped for cheaper peanuts, for example, can have potentially fatal consequences for food allergy sufferers.
A spotlight on provenance
Recent high-profile cases of food fraud and mislabeling have put the spotlight on food provenance and supply chain transparency. Research by Oritain found that over two-thirds of British adults surveyed (69%) said that since the horsemeat scandal they are more concerned that their food may be falsely labelled.
As public awareness of the risk of food fraud grows, and the risk to brand reputation increases, verification of product origin and supply chain integrity become essential.
Unfortunately, many measures available fall short of being able to ensure product integrity and provenance. Additives, labelling and packaging methods are equally susceptible to fraud and are easily altered or mislabeled. Even blockchain, with its “unhackable” traceability solution, is only as reliable as the data entered onto it.
The only absolute way to be sure of provenance is to test the product itself.
Seeing through opaque supply chains
Food suppliers and manufacturers are now turning towards forensic science to independently verify the origin of their products, ensure the integrity of their supply chains, and protect themselves from future scandals.
Foodbuy has extended its partnership with Oritain to secure its supply chain against the risk of food fraud and support its sustainable sourcing practices. By testing the naturally-occurring chemical elements of its products at any point in the supply chain, Oritain creates a unique fingerprint that links them back to the farm or field they came from.
This can satisfy a consumer’s knowledge in where their purchases originate from.
In our globalised world, with significant financial incentives and few legal repercussions, food fraud and mislabeling has been able to flourish. But through forensic science, brands can shine a light into the dark corners of their supply chains and protect themselves – and their customers – from unscrupulous players and unethical practices.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019