Fish, sausage, even honey: Food fraud is hidden in plain sight

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A 2018 study found 61% of seafood products tested at Montréal grocery stores and restaurants were mislabelled

 The globalization of the food chain has resulted in increased complexity and diminished transparency and trust into how and where our foods are grown, harvested, processed and by whom.

Furthermore, recurring incidents of food fraud remind us that some of those involved in the food chain are exploiting this complexity. Today, consumers are at an increased risk of buying lower-quality food than what they paid for, or worse, eating food with unsafe ingredients or undeclared allergens.

Historically, food chain transparency and trust was established between the shopper and the farmer or fishmonger, green grocer, butcher, milkman and baker. Dutch scholar Arthur Mol argued that this personal interaction enabled face-to-face transparency, which built trust.

Before modern supermarkets, a local village or town grocery store stocked up to 300 items grown or processed within a 240-kilometre (150-mile) radius. In comparison, our post-modern supermarkets carry an average of 33,000 items that travel 2,400 kilometres or more. The Canadian government is poised to tackle that problem by announcing a Buy Canadian food campaign.

While the extent of global food fraud is difficult to quantify, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) suggests food fraud affects 10 per cent of commercially sold food. Various academic and industry sources suggest that globally, food fraud ranges from US$10 billion to $49 billion. This is likely a conservative range considering estimates of fake Australian meats alone and sold worldwide are as high as AUD$4 billion, or more than US$2.5 billion.

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