Melamine, horsemeat, rat meat, Sudan red carcinogen colorant… we understand Food Fraud is an issue, but how big of an impact does it make? How do we define the risk or vulnerability? And probably more importantly… how do we define progress or “success”? The presenters in the EMA sessions at the IFT 2013 conference framed these questions… and set the direction to find the answers.
The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is a large professional organization for the Food Science industry, and its annual conference is one of the biggest. Its focus is on advancing the science of food to ensure a safe and abundant food supply. It also focusses on education and connecting the food science and technology professionals worldwide. It produces some of the most active scientific journals. I am personally grateful to IFT for publishing our first major Food Fraud article in their Journal of Food Science in November 2011. IFT’s Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety also just accepted our article, “Defining the Public Health Threat of Dietary Supplement Fraud”.
This year’s conference was held at McCormick Place in Chicago from July 11 to 17. It was reported that over 23,000 people attended. I presented three sections in the pre-conference workshop HACCP certification. I was also a part of the MSU Online Master of Science in Food Safety exhibitor team, and attended several educational sessions related to my research. There were two sessions that focused on Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA), which included many mentions of Food Fraud (FF).
IFT is focused on food science and technology, so it was logical for the conference to include a session on the adulterants and the adulteration aspects of the food vulnerability. IFT, and these presenters, have been increasingly covering the economically motivated adulteration issues.
The first EMA session was on “Strategies and Technology to Prevent/Detect Economic Adulteration of Food.” The presentations focused on test methods to detect EMA. The increased ability to detect product that has been adulterated will provide another, better weapon in the countermeasure arsenal. The presentations reviewed techniques to increase detection, not prevention. There were many excellent descriptions of fraud identification and authenticity testing.
The second EMA session was on “Risk Assessment for Economically Motivated Adulteration of Raw Materials and Ingredients: New Tools and Research Needs.” This session started with a statement by Joe Scimeca — a food safety VP at Cargill, speaking for the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association workgroup on Economic Adulteration – stating, “intentional adulteration is a game changer” since the potential impact is huge and the prevention countermeasures are from outside traditional food science. He continued to focus on the industry concerns of economic adulteration and, specifically, on the behavioral sciences and criminology aspects of prevention. He stated that there is a tremendous need for more research and that there is great industry concern on the topic. Next, Markus Lipp – a VP at U.S. Pharmacopeia/ Food Chemicals Codex – discussed some of the work of its food adulteration-related Expert Panels. The National Center for Food Protection and Defense (an early funder of our MSU Food Fraud research) presentation included some of its complex and expansive data-gathering activities in the Food Fraud area. The NCFPD has a deep engagement with its U.S. agency funders in protecting our borders and food supply.
The session was moderated by Jon deVries from General Mills/ Medallion Labs. He closed with an important concept about prevention – “we don’t have a way to claim success.” Later he stated, “If we prevent EMA no one knows for sure… we need to find a way to prove our success.”
The key take-aways for me were that Food Fraud is a critical food industry issue. There are many great minds collaborating at very high levels on the subject. As we found with our previous MSU efforts to quantify the economic impact or risk of counterfeiting , these fraud events defy our current methods and processes. We will need to continue to work together to develop the vulnerability and risk assessment systems. Finally, as Jon deVries stated, we need to find a way to “prove success” in prevention. We need to be able to define why Food Fraud Prevention is important and to define how, and when, we reduce the vulnerability. JWS.
Disclosure: I have been published in IFT journals and am grateful for the opportunity. I am involved in industry groups, and work with the speakers noted in this article on GMA workgroups, USP Expert Panels, GFSI activities, or the funding of our MSU work through the NCFPD.