Monday, July 1, 2013


Economic conditions and food frauds have a direct connection and higher the inflation bigger will be the incentive for fraudsters to imitate high priced food products to make a fast buck. History is replete with instances where costly products like olive oil, saffron, cavier, scotch whiskey and a host of others being imitated with even experts some time getting fooled! If recent reports are any indication this malaise that affects every society in this world is spreading its tentacles far and wide with safety management agencies not being able to cope up with the pace of growth of "innovators" for imitation who are able to imitate practically every product including the day to day foods of the citizens with impunity. Look at the milk industry in India, a country which happens to be the top most nation producing huge surplus milk where "man made" milk is flooding the market to attract cost conscious but innocent citizens in greater and greater numbers. A concoction of oil, shampoo, detergents, urea and and a host of other chemicals can be made to look like milk, behave like milk and fool the consumers while these "formulations" are sold at prices far below the ruling market price for genuine milk! Here is a commentary on fraud foods from Europe which seem to be reaching unmanageable proportion with safety authorities mulling over its consequences. 

"Investigators have uncovered thousands of frauds, raising fresh questions about regulatory oversight as criminals offer bargain-hunting shoppers cheap versions of everyday products, including counterfeit chocolate and adulterated olive oil, Jacob's Creek wine and even Bollinger Champagne. As the horse meat scandal showed, even legitimate companies can be overtaken by the murky world of food fraud. "Around the world, food fraud is an epidemic — in every single country where food is produced or grown, food fraud is occurring," said Mitchell Weinberg, president and chief executive of Inscatech, a company that advises on food security. "Just about every single ingredient that has even a moderate economic value is potentially vulnerable to fraud." Speaking at a recent conference organized by the consulting firm FoodChain Europe, Mr. Weinberg added that many processed products contain ingredients like sugar, vanilla, paprika, honey, olive oil or cocoa products that are tainted. Increasingly, those frauds are the work of organized international criminal networks lured by the potential for big profits in an illicit trade in which most forgers are never caught. The vodka gang boss, Kevin Eddishaw, was — but not before he had counterfeited liquor on an industrial scale, generating profits to match, according to investigators, who estimated that his distillery produced at least 165,000 bottles costing the British government £1.5 million, or $2.3 million, in lost tax revenue. "He was living a very nice lifestyle," said Roddy Mackinnon, criminal investigation officer for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, "a couple of properties, nice cars: a Range Rover, a Mercedes." Here at Moscow Farm, the gang used the production techniques of a modern-day factory equipped with at least £50,000, or $77,200, in equipment (while ignoring safety rules). Gang members bought bottles from the supplier of the real makers of Glen's vodka, saying they were destined for Poland. When forged label prototypes printed in Britain were deemed unpersuasive, higher-quality ones were brought from Poland. The gang faked duty stamps on boxes. "They tried to do as much as they could to replicate the real thing," Mr. Mackinnon said. "They were very professional, there was attention to detail." So well was the secret plant hidden that it was detected only when someone suspected in another case led investigators there in 2009. Though Mr. Eddishaw worked through intermediaries and used pay-as-you-go cellphone numbers, investigators tracked his calls, proving from the location where they were made that the phone belonged to him and linking him to a fraud that brought him a seven-year prison term. The plot fits a pattern, identified by Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency, which says organized crime groups have capitalized on the economic downturn".

The "accidental" uncovering of the imitation Vodka factory in England as reported above shows how blatant adulterators  and fraudsters can go in cheating the consumers with no concern about the adverse impact of their products on consumer health. This disturbing revelation is all the more perturbing considering that the helpless consumers have no recourse to avoid such fraudulent foods with the safety authorities grossly under manned to tackle the situation though infrastructure wise European testing facilities are one of the best in the world. In contrast countries like India are doubly handicapped because they have neither adequately qualified staff in quality and quantity nor the requisite testing infrastructure! Most citizens are food illiterate, ignorant of food safety, health and nutrition. How can the world face such a "no win" situation though there are honest intentions? Probably one of the effective deterrents could be very severe punishment including capital punishment for serious offenders indulging in life threatening food fraud episodes and plugging all loopholes in the legal system.  

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