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What is Food Fraud?

Food and Beverages | Monday, September 05, 2022

To ensure food safety, a primary concern, it is essential to comprehend the many forms of food fraud and the criteria for determining if an incidence is food fraud.

FREMONT, CA: According to Article 1(2) of Regulation (EU) 2017/625 (the agri-food chain law), food fraud refers to any alleged purposeful conduct by firms or individuals to mislead purchasers and receive an undue benefit therefrom. These deliberate violations of the EU's agri-food chain regulations may prevent the internal market from operating as intended and may also pose a danger to human, animal, or plant health, animal welfare, or the environment in the case of GMOs and plant protection products.

Some of the different types of food fraud include dilution, substitution, concealment, unapproved enhancement, counterfeiting, mislabelling, and grey market forgery. Dilution is the process of mixing an ingredient with a high value with a lower one. Substitution refers to the process of replacing a nutrient, an ingredient, or a part of food with a lower-value product. Concealment means hiding a low-quality food ingredient or an item. The action of adding unknown and unauthorised compounds to food products to improve their quality attributes is an unapproved enhancement. A counterfeit is an infringement on intellectual property rights. Mislabelling is the distortion of information provided on the packaging or label, and grey market forgery is production theft and diversion.

There are four major key operative criteria for distinguishing whether a case should be considered fraud or non-compliance. When an instance matches all four criteria, then it is regarded as a suspicion of fraud.

- Violation of EU rules: According to article 1(2) of Regulation (EU) 2017/625, it involves a violation of one or more rules codified in the EU agri-food chain legislation.

- Deception of Customers: This criterion implies any form of deception of the consumers, such as using altered colours and labels that perplex the true quality or sometimes the nature of a product itself. Furthermore, as part of a product's true capabilities are concealed, the misleading aspect might potentially pose a risk to the public's health (for example, in the case of undeclared allergens).

- Undue Advantage: A perpetrator might gain some form of direct or indirect economic benefit from the crime.

- Intention: The criterion is based on various factors which give a strong basis to believe that a few non-compliances are not occurring by chance, such as the replacement of high-quality ingredients with lower-quality ones. When an ingredient is mostly substituted with inferior quality, it suggests fraudulent intent.

The ability to identify fraudulent activity presents a challenge not only due to the various forms it can take but also to the need to distinguish deliberate acts from accidental or unintentional ones. This could potentially compromise the safety or quality of the food product. An even more severe aspect that has defence concerns is intentional adulteration that is motivated to harm, such as through bioterrorism.

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