• Food Fraud Prevention is More Like Fighting Purse Counterfeiters than Controlling Microbes

    by John Spink • April 14, 2013 • Blog • 0 Comments

    luxury leopard female bag isolated on white“E. coli doesn’t surf FDA.gov to find more efficient ways to get on products… counterfeiters do.”  I frequently start my presentations with this statement and it usually gets a chuckle…then a nervous laugh. All the research publications and sharing of best practices that help protect the food supply from Food Safety risks, if applied to Food Fraud, would actually give a roadmap to the bad guys. Combating Food Fraud requires a fundamentally different approach than the traditional expertise in Food Safety management systems.

    There is a difference between “experience” and “expertise.” A bank manager who has been robbed a hundred times has “experience” in being robbed but, obviously, not “expertise” in avoiding being robbed. Food Fraud prevention expertise requires an interdisciplinary approach from experts outside Food Safety, including Supply Chain and Logistics Science, Corporate Security, Intelligence Analysis, Packaging, and now Enterprise Risk Management.

    There is a growing awareness not only of the public health (and economic) threat of Food Fraud but also that there will need to be new disciplines engaged to enable the shift to fraud prevention. Specifically, this was identified in two key US government reports. A 2011 GAO report  specifically quoted an FDA official who stated that the FDA “do not have the range of expertise… with a background in intelligence gathering or law enforcement”. In addition, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) draft rulemaking documents reiterate the complexity. The report  stated “FDA tentatively concludes that intentional hazards [Economically Motivated Adulteration and Food Fraud], which are not addressed in traditional HACCP or other food safety systems, likely will require different kinds of controls and would be best addressed in a separate rulemaking.”

    Combating Food Fraud is different from Food Safety because the human fraudsters are clandestine, stealthy, intelligent, resilient, often well funded, actively seek to avoid detection…and they are often very patient. I saw a need for a scholarly reference to define that the bad guys are very different from the traditional bad actors in the food supply chain, so I authored The Challenges of Intellectual Property Enforcement in Agriculture  which was published in the Journal of Intellectual Property Rights in March 2011 (note: this is an open source article and free to download). This article includes five fascinating case studies that include a terrorist “weapons procurement officer,” $40 million dollar tax-avoidance honey smuggling ring, a $500+ million product quality fraud scheme, a business person who bribed a Belizean judge to get released from jail then fled to the Mexican jungle, and a counterfeiter who is still openly operating due to a nuance in an extradition treaty. These will clearly define some of the challenges of trying to stop the bad guys… or of even trying to conduct legal discovery in a court case.

    Prevention and deterrence are more like forensic accounting than microbiology. You will not arrest (or sue) your way to safety. This discussion emphasizes the need to focus on reducing the fraud opportunity and the importance of a Food Fraud Prevention Strategy. By the way, in MSU’s free Food Fraud Overview MOOC  next month we will be introducing this concept. JWS.

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