There was an incredibly open and direct conversation about Food Fraud prevention at the GFSI China Focus Day (August 26-27, Beijing). Food Fraud prevention was positioned at this event as a – and maybe “the” – top food industry issue. Food Fraud incidents are undermining the other successes in food quality, food safety, and food security. Chinese companies and the government are collaborating with GFSI to practically and directly address all aspects of Food Fraud prevention beyond just adulteration.
My research is focused on Food Fraud prevention and it’s what I do every day. I teach it, I research it, I write about it, and I lecture on it. So while I think it is an important concept it was impressive that Food Fraud was addressed as such a core concept and that it is was so widely integrated into the GFSI activity. The need and willingness to address Food Fraud prevention was universal from international, national, regional, and local attendees.
Many of the speakers from the Chinese industries emphasized the challenges of managing growth while continuing to meet the demands of the more informed consumers (Speakers included: Jie Hong, CEO, China Resources & China Resources Vanguard; Chongjian Zhang, V-P, Bright Food (Group) Co., Ltd.: Chunhua Chen, Co-chairperson and CEO, New Hope Liuhe; and Zaotian Wan, VP, COFCO.) Mr. Wan stated “Food safety has become one of the most important social issues.” Mr. Zhang stated that some of the biggest consumer concerns were intentional acts (Food Fraud) and not the traditional food safety issues. The translator stated “So for traditional risks we control the process better. For the non-traditional risk we need to prevent the man-made problems. We need to determine the responsibilities along the supply chain.” Overall, there was an intense focus on consumer confidence.
GFSI has dedicated time and resources to understand, research, and now act to combat Food Fraud. In his keynote address Mike Robach, GFSI Vice-Chair and Cargill Vice-President, stressed the importance of addressing Food Fraud prevention. Addressing Food Fraud is one of the key focus areas in the next edition of the GFSI guidance document, in order:
- Name Change – “GFSI Guidance Document” to “GFSI Benchmarking Requirements” (This makes sense and is a much clearer term)
- Food Fraud – This will be added to the requirements (The exact details are to be determined by the Technical Working Groups)
- Revised Benchmarking Process
- Audit Requirements
- Sector Specific Auditor Competencies
Yves Rey, past Chair of GFSI and General Manager for Corporate Quality at Danone, mentioned that GFSI China is officially recognized as a “Chinese Non-Governmental Organization.” There are seven “Technical Working Groups” (TWG) including:
- Regulatory Affairs
- Auditor Competencies
- Communication & Implementation
- Capacity Building
- Guidance Document Development
- Food Fraud
John Carter, a GFSI Board Member and Vice-President of Metro Group, expanded on the GFSI focus on Food Fraud prevention. He mentioned that there has been work in and around Food Fraud prevention but he felt the current GFSI Food Fraud approach had the opportunity to really make a positive impact. A key shift is the focus on “vulnerability” rather than “hazard.” Another key is expanding from a focus on detection to proactive prevention programs. Detection is still critical and there needs to be scientific and engineering advances; the goal is not to catch fraudulent product but to prevent it from getting in the supply chain in the first place. He, like several other speakers, emphasized the need to address Food Fraud prevention in a similar – but distinctly different – way than addressing Food Safety or Food Defense.
Paul Gallemore, Chief Compliance Officer for Walmart China, discussed a range of their Food Safety initiatives including Food Fraud. Their Food Safety Team addresses related concepts along the continuum of Food Safety, Food Fraud, and Food Defense. While this is a continuum, each concept is addressed with a unique focus. When addressing Food Fraud prevention he stated “We’re concerned with more than just adulteration.” Commenting on the complexity of the issue, he stated “That’s the reason why we need to work together. We need to work together to figure how to reduce the fraud opportunity as an entire industry.” As part of that collaborative approach we were pleased he had a slide that mentioned their sponsorship of our Mandarin language MSU Food Fraud MOOC. The focus on Food Fraud prevention is so intense because it is so important to consumers. He presented the top 5 most important shopping experience factors for Chinese shoppers:
- No Fake Products = 81.4%
- Has Product Safety Guarantee = 79.4%
- Fresh Foods Smell Fresh = 78.3%
- Honest Pricing = 78.2%
- Has Product Quality Guarantee = 77.4%
While Food Safety hazards and the HACCP type programs will always be the foundation and the most important part of protecting the food supply chain, it’s clear that Food Fraud prevention is a specific concept that will become universally applied.
Even for someone who focuses on Food Fraud prevention, I was surprised to see depth and the intensity of the focus on the topic. I’m encouraged that there is a public-private partnership and collaboration holistically addressing the problem. Through academic research and NGO activities such as GFSI a firm and logical foundation is being established. We are finding common ground before we begin implementing countermeasures. There is a Chinese proverb that is often attributed to Lao Tzu that says “a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.” We’ve taken a step but we have a big map for this team of explorers. Take your own first step and join in with the troupe. JWS.
[Disclosure: As was mentioned in the GFSI position paper on Food Fraud, I was one of the six entities invited in mid-2012 to join their Food Fraud Think Tank. I have been a frequent presenter at GFSI events and to work teams. Michigan State University research – including the foundational definition of Food Fraud – is referenced throughout the position paper and GFSI documents.]