Global View on Food Fraud at Asset2018 | © Dr. Sabine Bonneck

A Global View on Food Fraud

Speech at the ASSET2018 in Belfast

Food Fraud. Why does it matter?

Food fraud has been happening since the ancient times. In 2013 the horse meat scandal shook Europe and the topic came with priority on the political agenda. Since then a lot has been done. The Commission set up a network on the European level to improve the collaboration between the member states. The member states carried out special control plans related to horse meat, honey and fish. Beside this they implemented trainings for food inspectors. More than 60 nations participate in the global Operation OPSON to foster international cooperation. Beside this researchers developed new analytical methods to detect food fraud.

Andy Morling @ Asset2018 | Dr. Sabine Bonneck
Andy Morling @ Asset2018 | Dr. Sabine Bonneck

But still: Whereever you go, you will find food fraud. And nobody managed yet to restore the consumers’ trust in the food sector. According to a survey, up to 85 % of the Germans don’t believe that the food contains the ingredients that are listed on the label. Obviously the situation needs further improvement.

Strenghtening food controls

What can be done? A fraudster would maybe start thinking of whether or not comitting a fraud, if he was facing a higher probability of being detected. Currently, food fraud is very attractive because the profits are huge while the risk of criminal prosecution is very low. Thus, we need to strenghten food controls. We need to increase number and frequency of checks. The food control needs also better access to modern methods. The local food inspectors do not necessarily even know about modern analytical methods. They must be happy if they have smartphones and modern laptops as parts of their equipment. Currently, they check food still with the naked eye. The possibility to determine e.g. the geographic origin of fish or the authenticity of jam with DNA analysis is far from their routine.

Dr. Sabine Bonneck @ Asset2018 | © Dr. Sabine Bonneck
Dr. Sabine Bonneck @ Asset2018 | © Dr. Sabine Bonneck

Furthermore the inspectors check the food on the basis of delivery documents. They can just check the plausibility within a defined scope because they act on a local level while commodity flows are global. For the food inspector it is not possible to know what is going on in the country from where the food was coming. Thus, we must share the responsibilities clearly. The importer must be fully responsible that his imported food meets all legal requrements. The food control can be responsible only on a local or national level.

Service agency to make supply chains safer

Many food producers put already much effort into improving the safety of their supply chains. But still too many producers do not care or are even not aware of the necessity. We should recognize that the food market is highly fragmented. There are a few huge players, like Danone or Mars. But the vast majoritiy of food producers are small companies. They cannot afford to maintain staff or even departments to cope with food fraud. Just gathering the relevant Information about food fraud is time-consuming. Therefore we could set up an agency or an association. The Producers pay a fee and the agency can fulfil certain tasks for them, ranging from providing Information to support for making the supply chain safer. If such an agency existed, producers could surely offer no excuse anymore not to be prepared against food fraud.

The panel

I was together on the panel with Bob Baker from Mars, Monique Pellegrino from Danone, Peter Whelan from FSAI and John Spink from Michigan State University. Andy Morling from FSA chaired the session in front of approximately 350 people.


Dr. Sabine Bonneck