Tackling food fraud

Food fraud, described as a deliberate act of altering food products with the intention of deceiving consumers, is a threat worldwide.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a multinational professional services firm, says global food fraud is estimated at $40 billion yearly.

According to foodengineering magazine, many food products that are susceptible to fraud are expensive to produce and take to the market. Also,  they have a high premium, and their appearance makes it hard to visually detect any adulteration, the magazine added.

In Nigeria, like other developing countries, there have been reported cases of food fraud, taking the forms of counterfeiting, theft, adulteration, tampering and unauthorise, which are deliberate.

While the extent of food fraud is difficult to quantify, experts say consumers are at an increased risk of buying lower-quality food than what they pay for or, worse, eating food with unsafe ingredients or undeclared allergens.

As a matter of fact, major food producers are facing high competition. The market place is saturated. This has led to players adulterating food for economic gains.These days, fraud perpetuators inflate values of nutrients in products that may have been diluted.

Products are then mislabeled as higher value. Most foods associated with fraud include honey, meat and grain-based foods, fruit juices, organic foods, coffee, and some highly processed foods.  Experts say some cases go undetected since they don’t immediately result in food safety risk and consumers do not notice a quality problem.

The Chairman, Board of Trustees, Mycotoxicology Society of Nigeria (MYCOTOXSON), Prof. Dele Fapohunda, said food fraud, or the act of defrauding buyers of food or ingredients for gains, is a serious issue.

He said beyond the cost, food fraud has severe implications to public health and consumer trust. He said consumers expect greater assurance at every stage of the supply chain.  He stressed the need to give food fraud the attention it warrants to enhance trust in food safety and quality.

According to him,  food businesses must have preventive controls in place as well as product traceability records to ensure products meet laws.

Ensuring safe food, according to him, is essential for the protection of human health and for improving the quality of life. He said  it  was  essential that imported and local  foods are safe for  human  consumption  and  are  not  subject  to  fraudulent  practices.

He emphasised  the  need  for  both the public and private sectors to take responsibility to improve food safety, as well as the need to educate and  involve  all  stakeholders  in  the  food  chain  in  the  production  of safe  food,  including farmers and consumers.

In most markets, there have been cases of adulterated honey and spices, mislabelled and false claims of organic products. Honey is one of nature’s original products, and it is made by bees with no additives or preservatives of any kind. It is one of many food products that are vulnerable to economically motivated adulteration. There are chances   of a product labeled as honey adulterated with sugar or syrup.

The  founder and Director, Centre for Bee Research & Development (CEBRAD), Dr. Bidemi Ojeleye,  said cheap counterfeit honey is endangering beekeeping and the consequences are severe.

Ojeleye is among honey producers feeling the sting from cheaper, adulterated honey.

A nutritional biochemist and a certified beekeeper, Ojeleye, said honey fraud is devastating for honest businesses like his. He works with bees, spinning honey out of hives. The challenge for him is that nothing is being done to stop adulterated honey from entering the market.  The demand for honey is high and production is limited.

Ojeleye owns many bee hives where he produces genuine honey but the quantity is not enough to go round. While adulterated honey is pouring into the market, the local beekeepers are feeling the sting. The producers, who pride themselves on turning out the real thing, are feeling the adverse effects.

Today, honey fraud takes different forms. Fraudsters add sugar syrups to increase the volume. In all cases, the final product is far from what consumers think they’re buying. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), unripe honey is harvested when it is still a watery soup with high water contents. It is then artificially dried, resin residues are eliminated by filtering, pollen may be removed or added to mask country of origin, and syrups are added to meet the different market prices.

Mislabeling of food is a growing global problem including in the honey market.

Ojeleye said such acts compromise the confidence of customers and raises health and safety concerns.

Honey is an obvious target for counterfeiters. There is no method for authenticating honey, fraudsters are one step ahead of regulators and trusted brands have been showing up with added syrups.

According to analysts, the demand for honey is rising even as its production is getting harder to sustain environmentally.

Other food products

In  February 2018, 14-year-old Nahima and Yayaya, died after eating tainted biscuits at a classmate’s birthday celebration in their school, located just outside Abuja. Several other children in their class were hospitalised. Panic and threats from angry parents forced a temporary school closure. But, to date, there have been no efforts to investigate the root causes of the death. No company has been identified and sanctioned for the incident either.

Addressing an empowerment forum organised by Foundation Faith Ministry in Lagos, co-founder of AACE Foods Mrs Ndidi Nwuneli said she observed first-hand the magnitude of the food fraud crisis and how supermarket shelves and open market stalls are  stocked with counterfeit products.

According to her, food fraud is a crime that impacts the authenticity of food products and can be  harmful to consumers, food businesses and the wider industry.

She lamented that there were rising poor food safety practices and standards, which has led to huge economic losses.

She said lack of control to protect individual brand has also created room for people to fake products of reputable companies to make money, leaving the image of the company tarnished in the public.

She called for measures to prevent fraudulent or deceptive practices and unwholesome production of food and any other practices that may lead to injuries to consumers’ health.

Food fraud has become a serious concern to regulatory agencies. It can occur on a large scale and with more complexity due in part to the increased globalisation of food and agricultural supply chains.

According to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), this development has led to huge economic losses evident in the myriad of rejected export food from Nigeria at international borders.

Its Director-General, Prof. Christiana Adeyeye, said a major concern that deserves ‘very serious’ attention is how not to compromise food safety standards in the race to increase food production and processing to provide food for the growing population around the world.

Adeyeye, who spoke during  World Food Safety Day, anchored by the Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FSAN) Directorate last year in Ikeja, Lagos, said there were some reccurring food safety and emerging issues were of major concern, despite of aggressive efforts by regulators to contain the problem.

She said some of the poor food safety practices include: artificial ripening of fruits using unapproved agents such as calcium, which could have deleterious effects on health when such fruits are consumed; use of unapproved insecticide such as sniper for preservation of gains by unauthorised persons; use of containers contaminated with hazardous chemicals such as fertiliser bags for grains or chemical drums and jerry cans for food storage, which she stressed is a classical example of a common practice among the market men and women due to ignorance.

Other practices, she added, are unauthorised use of chemicals such as dichlorvos for storage of grains and other agricultural produce by unauthorised persons, which could lead to contamination of the stored products as well as exporters and dealers of agricultural commodities who spray hazardous pesticides on produce during storage to prevent damage by pests at the cost of human lives and public health.



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