The latest episode of Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s Global Safety Podcast examines how criminals are exploiting our global food supply chains, shedding light on some of the shocking practices of food adulteration around the world - and the safety issues they create.
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Panellist Kimberly Coffin, Supply Chain Assurance Technical Director at Lloyd's Register, discusses the alarming rise of food fraud as identified in a recent survey of 100 global beverage manufacturers. "Ninety-seven percent of the manufacturers surveyed by Lloyd’s Register had been subject to an incident of food fraud in the last 12 months."
Joining Kimberly are several experts on the frontline in the fightback against the criminal networks responsible for food crime. Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Safety at Queen's University Belfast, who led the UK government's independent review of food systems following the 2013 horse meat scandal; Dr. John Spink, an anti-counterfeit packaging and food fraud prevention expert and Professor Louise Manning, Director of Knowledge Exchange at the Royal Agriculture University.
“For me, food fraud is any dishonesty that occurs that's associated with food,” states Louise. “So that could be the product itself, the documentation…anywhere where consumers or other food businesses are being consciously misled. There's conscious dishonesty towards those
A key talking point amongst the panellists surrounds the direct safety implications of food fraud to consumers. “Ultimately the worst result is when food is unfit for human consumption and it causes illness or even death,” Kimberly comments. “However, the vast majority of fraudulent activity doesn't necessarily fall into that category. It's more commonly about dishonest behaviour which often goes unnoticed by consumers.”
The safety issues around food fraud extend far beyond the direct threats to the consumer. “I think it goes far wider than that when we start to think of aspects such as modern slavery or certain aspects of foods that we are promoting,” added Louise. Chris agrees, “All of the different attributes of food give more opportunities for people to go out and cheat. This isn't just petty crime, serious organized criminals are involved in this.”
The global Covid-19 pandemic has also put further strain on food supply chains. “With border closures, onsite audit visits had essentially stopped,” states Kimberly. “We had to shift very swiftly to doing remote assessment. Now remote assessment has been refined and improved over the period of the pandemic. It will now always play a part, I think, in verification, but it doesn't totally replace face-to-face visits.”
John Spink provides some simple steps so consumers can better understand vulnerabilities when it comes to food. “We call it a five-word survey for consumers. “Number one is, ‘Be careful what you put in you, on you, or plug in the wall’. Second is quality - can you judge the quality? Third is supplier. Do you trust the supplier? The fourth is online. Online is not necessarily bad, as long as you get them from a trusted source. The firth one is complain. If you think there's a problem, perhaps an allergy reaction, the quality may be off. If so, complain. By following these steps, we can start to look at our vulnerabilities and act.”
Tom Heap: What's in our food, where it's from, how it's produced, is it safe, and are we getting what we paid for? There is a huge and growing challenge with the honesty of our food, and that challenge is food fraud. In this program we'll be hearing of the growing sophistication of food criminals, some shocking and deadly practices in Africa, and how technology is fighting back.
Welcome to The Global Safety Podcast from Lloyd's Register Foundation. Well, let's introduce today's panel. We have professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Safe... I want to put a little more teeth in. Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Safety at Queen's University Belfast. Chris led the UK government's independent review of our food systems following the 2013 horse meat scandal. Dr. John Spink, anti- counterfeit packaging and food fraud prevention expert. Professor Louise Manning, director of knowledge exchange at the Royal Agriculture University. And Kimberley Coffin, global technical director here at Lloyd's Register. Global technical director at Lloyd's Register.
Well, welcome to you all, and just a simple question to get us started really, the brief sum up of what is food fraud, Louise Manning?
Louise Manning: For me, food fraud is any dishonesty that occurs that's associated with food. So that could be the product itself, that could be the documentation, but anywhere where consumers or other food businesses are being consciously... There's conscious dishonesty towards those businesses.
Tom: Thank you. Chris Elliott.
Chris Elliott: Yeah. I think Louise has given a very good summary of food fraud. You know, there's no agreed international definition, which is a big problem for all of us. But it is about deception and it's for economic gain is for people to make money out of cheating all of us.
Tom: And well let's talk about what the negative impacts of that food fraud are in simple terms. I'm going to stick with you, Kimberly, if I may. What are the bad results if you say that for me?
Kimberly Coffin: Look, ultimately the worst result and the food is unfit for human consumption and it causes illness or it causes death. I think part of the thing, and perhaps one of the things that people don't appreciate is largely, the vast majority of fraudulent activity doesn't necessarily fall into that category. It's more dishonest behavior and it's one that actually goes seemingly unnoticed by consumers in many cases.
Tom: So clearly the worst result is ill health or even death, the far end of that spectrum. But Chris Elliott, are we seeing a lot of things in terms of not getting what we've paid for, sort of direct fraud or theft?
Chris Elliott: Yes, I mean, you're absolutely right, Tom. In most cases, the perpetrators of food fraud, they don't have (inaudible) poisonous or killers, that's not a very good business model because they want the deception to keep going, and we don't know it's happening. So it's very much we generally loss of money. Most people who are most at risk are all of us consumers, but also don't forget about food businesses as well, because in complex supply chains, often businesses can get embroiled in these types of food fraud scandals and it causes massive, massive reputational damage to them.
Tom: What do you think, Louise, about that increasingly, premium brands especially or premium foods carrying values which we're prepared to pay for, which are difficult to prove.
Louise Manning: Well, I think if we look at fraud, especially in organic food around the world, we see highly organized activity. And much of the work that's been done by Europol and Interpol and others have demonstrated this isn't just one or two businesses, it's a highly integrated collection of businesses that are working as an organized crime network.
If we look at the activities that happened in Brazil, for example, they've caught the (inaudible) flesh incident. There were laboratories that were colluding. So on the one hand you have highly sophisticated networks of businesses that are involved in dishonesty on a grand scale, and we're talking multi- million pounds. And you also then have businesses at the other end of the market that are seeking to supply food in areas where there's often very low margins that may be pressurized, especially if they think there's a lack of deterrent that something isn't going to cause harm, but allows them to keep operating. And they will start to do that as part of their mode of operation.
Tom: Louise, can you just give us a few sentences about that Brazilian case, because I'm not as familiar with it as you are. What is actually involved? What was it about?
Louise Manning: And there was an incident in 2017 where there essentially was a whole range of food that was certified as being fit for consumption, and a whole range of activities were happening throughout the supply chain. But I think it goes far wider than that when we start to think of aspects such as modern slavery, when we think of certain aspects of foods that we are promoting. If we cannot demonstrate the point of purchase, there's always the opportunity for fraud.
That can happen both in global chains, but also local chains as well. Occasionally we will see instances of where people will go into a local shop where they're being told the product's British, and actually it's not. Some of that is accidental and it's just new people working there that may not have been properly trained, so it isn't always dishonesty, but we can see these activities at all levels across the supply chain.
Tom: Chris, I saw you nodding earlier. Do you think this sort of aspiration to pay for wellbeing of the animal or the people who produced it or where it came from, do you think that could be or is becoming of it or a fraudster's (inaudible) ?
Chris Elliott: Yes, I mean, you all know very well, Tom, that there's a lot of efforts going on to get consumers reconnected with food, where it comes from, how it's been produced. These are all really good things, and because of that there is a willingness to pay for organic, high- welfare fair trade, which is fantastic. But unfortunately, all of the different attributes of food give more opportunities for people to go out and cheat. As Louise said, this isn't just petty crime. This is serious organized criminals are involved in this.
Tom: What do you actually mean when you say this because it can be a phrase that's a bit easily handed around by journalists. Is organized crime involved? What does that mean in this case, Chris?
Chris Elliott: Well, I mean, if I give you the follow- on from Louise's great example of what Brazil in operation weak flesh. That was organized crime operating at its very best. In fact, one of my good friends was involved in the investigation, and he listened to some of the recordings of some of the interactions that were going on. Some of the senior government ministers in Brazil at that time referred to the boss, and it turned out the boss was actually a meat inspector who worked in one of the companies and was head of the particular mafioso.
Tom: Wow, that's really getting your people in it. Well, that shows, isn't it, because they often try to embed people where (crosstalk) .
Chris Elliott: Absolutely.
Tom: That's extraordinary to think that that was where they felt it would give them more advantage. I want to come on to Kimberly in a moment because she does some studies on this, but John, just while I'm with you, the big question, the simple question really, how big a problem is food fraud, and what scale of it is it happening? Let's stick with the Global North at the moment, the richer countries.
John Spink: Well, first off, the US Government Accountability Office started a project to estimate the economic impact of counterfeiting in the US. They started down that path and then the report changed over time to a review of the methods to evaluate the economic impact, because once you start to look at trying to put a dollar amount or look at public health for some of these incidents, it's really, really challenging. Because number one is define fraud. As Chris said, there's not a universal definition.
In one country the customs agencies, it might be food and beverages. In another country, beverages are separate. So it's really hard to get that number. Also with fraud, product fraud of all kind, is most times we don't know we've been deceived. So if cadmium's in it or food safety incident, we'd probably find out about that, but we have no idea what the base is. I was in this school of criminal justice for four years before coming back here, they don't have a problem with that. They look at vulnerabilities. They look at system weaknesses because they're looking at prevention.
That's the thing is how big is the problem? Well, we could look at horse meat, we could look at a couple key incidents and say that the problem is catastrophic. But what we need to do then is look at the vulnerabilities of those system weaknesses. I think that's something like what Chris is doing with his group of constantly looking at different ways to measure, to detect number one is the key at the start. I'm avoiding your question of how big is the problem other than saying it's really darn big.
Tom: Okay. You've given me an adjective in the end there, that was what I was after. Chris, was that a quick wave or were you...
Chris Elliott: Just a follow- on from John because there are different people have produced different figures for the scale of food fraud. They are all guesstimates. And because, again, back to the world of criminology, there's an expression of the dark figure of crime. That is really all of the unreported criminal activity are those things that you don't know that are actually going on. That is food fraud, and it absolutely sums it up. We really have absolutely no idea. All we know it's a very, very big number, and probably it keeps on growing.
Tom: Right. Well, Kimberly, you have recently done some research on this, done some survey work. Tell us what you found.
Kimberly Coffin: Lloyds's Registry recently undertook us. They have 100 of the top global manufacturers of beverages around the world, and really remarkably, or maybe not so remarkably to all of us that are on the call, 97% of the most manufacturers that were surveyed came back and indicated that they had been subjected to an incidence of some form of food fraud in the last 12 months. Also, 80% of those respondents to that survey said that they felt that it was an area that was specifically growing across their sector and that they needed to actually take more awareness of and were actually really looking at what they could do about it.
Tom: And you've got some other figures here about manufacturers as well involved?
Kimberly Coffin: Yeah. Those were the top 100 global manufacturers of beverages specifically, yeah.
Tom: Okay. Forgive me. I think there was also only 22% of manufacturers are very confident that suppliers meet food safety standards, so-
Kimberly Coffin: Yeah. This is the swing and the round about in that survey. The survey was broad, so it didn't look just at fraud, but it looked at fraud, it looked at supply chain risk, and it looked at some of their commitments from a sustainability perspective. And interestingly, when we put those pieces together, had had issues with food fraud in the last 12 months were concerned and were putting it as a priority. 80% of them were looking at it as a priority for them.
And then on the counter side of looking at supply chain risk and actually looking at how they evaluate their suppliers, there were two key takeaways from the survey results from my perspective. One, was 70% of those manufacturers said that they'd had to make a swift change in supply source because of the impact of the pandemic. And they were also, however, said that a very, very low margin, I think it was 22% actually came back and said that they had really high levels of confidence that their suppliers were actually meeting baseline food safety standards.
Tom: You mentioned the pandemic. I don't know if anyone wants to pick up whether what, if any, impact the pandemic has had on the food fraud landscape.
Chris Elliott: It still needs to be really fully understood, Tom. But what we know is the world's system of checking inspections and all, that's pretty much collapsed and is still in a really bad position at the moment. So I just think it is a great (inaudible) days for those people who want to cheat (inaudible) . There's no doubt about it.
Chris Elliott: (inaudible) .
Tom: Really? So just expand on that a bit. Because of the pandemic, what some of the tracks or relax just because you get stuff in, or it was food supply above everything? What was the motive for relaxing the checks?
Chris Elliott: I mean, the whole... Kimberly, after you.
Kimberly Coffin: Basically Tom, the food industry very much operates on a mechanism by which a verification through onsite assessment of food manufacturers, and looking at the food (inaudible) management systems that they have in place, including in that is their vulnerability assessments from a food broad perspective, as well as assessing how well they comply with globally recognized standards in this space. Essentially with border closures, with up and down case rates, those onsite visits had essentially stopped and the industry that Lloyd's Register group operates in is a large component of that verification sector.
We had to shift very swiftly to doing remote assessment. Now remote assessment has been refined and improved over the period of pandemic. It will always play a part, I think, in verification, but it doesn't actually replace.
Chris Elliott: I can't smell meat over Zoom.
Kimberly Coffin: You can't smell, and that's the biggest thing is you can't smell, and in some cases you can't hear. So it will not fully replace ever that verification process for food manufacturing.
Tom: And John Spink, you've said that crime adjust to any situation. So presumably if the situation is a little less inspection, maybe as Chris said, they could be getting away with food murder.
John Spink: Well, yeah, and really from a criminology standpoint, the reporting, the data is very slow to get to us, because these activities need to be curbed, they need to be found, they need to be investigated before they're really in a register we can look at. But we do know right away the vulnerability changed instantly. So see, right there is the efficiency of using crime prevention is we didn't have to wait for data of which products it was happening, we could see right away this lack of an audit, lack of inspection, something else.
But the thing is one thing with Zoom is that you can be a lot of places at once. So I'm UK this morning, Mexico this afternoon, South Africa tomorrow. So all of a sudden, a part of what I'm doing can be very different. So if we did have the systems in place to change, then we could very quickly monitor. Again, remember, bad guys don't like to leave their fingerprints. So if we make them submit something... Well, as Louise said, the compliance versus really meeting the goals, then we have something like the Global Food Safety Initiative requires a vulnerability assessment, not a lot of detail on it, but requires one, requires a strategy. So you could ask the supplier to send it to you. Right there, that's fingerprints. They're showing you. They're committing saying, " Yes, I did this. Here's what it is."
Now, let's say in a year Kimberly goes in and audits them. Well, she can pull that past document and she can start to compare things. What we see over time is early on we were researching and we stayed what is fruit fraud, and that shifted to how to deal with it. I remember Aesop's fable Belling the Cat, so yeah, it sounds great, " Put a bell on the cat," the mice say, but how do you get the bell on the cat is the big question.
So then now we've moved onto really how much is enough, and that's looking at that vulnerability, the system weakness. And finally, how to start, how to implement it. So all of this pressure and all the activity that we've all had is really leading to some things that are really helping change the really fundamental nature of how we address this.
Tom: We're to come onto some of the solutions a little later in the program, but back in 2013, the horse meat scandal rocked the UK and Europe. But perhaps its most constructive legacy was the setting up of the National Food Crime Unit, part of the Food Standards Agency.
Back in 2013, the horse meat scandal rocked the UK and Europe. But perhaps its most constructive legacy was the setting up of the National Food Crime Unit, part of the Food Standards Agency. Earlier I caught up with Giles Chapman, head of analysis and futures of the National Food Crime Unit.
But of course not all parts of the world have the same relatively robust standards in terms of public health, or the same resources to prevent food fraud from happening in the first place. Chris, you have worked quite a bit in Africa. Can you tell us about what's happening there?
Chris Elliott: Yeah. So I think we're moving from the Global North to the Global South. If you think of Africa as a continent, 50- plus countries, they don't have the same level of infrastructure, the same amount of investment in food safety and food integrity. So the opportunity for people to cheat in those countries is very, very high, Tom. We've done quite a lot of work, particularly in West Africa looking at places like Ghana and Cameroon and Nigeria. Food fraud is absolutely rife there. People actually know about it, but there's very, very little that they can do about it. There's no real authorities or stepping in to take many countermeasures.
Tom: Give me an example or a list. What kind of things are we talking about?
Chris Elliott: Yeah. If I give you an example of some of the work we have done, say, in Cameroon, and what we've tried to do there, but one of my staff is based there full time, they've actually just been going around interview people to say, " Well, what's the big thing that worries you about food fraud?" One of the most commonly cited commodities is palm oil. In West Africa it's described as red oil or red gold actually. The more intense the color, the more money that you pay for palm oil. What you find is very, very large quantities of industrial dyes are added to the palm oil to give it this perception of being high quality. And those industrial dyed are unbelievably toxic.
Tom: Wow. That's enough in itself. You've got some others here about contaminated rice with microtoxins. Tell me a little bit about that.
Chris Elliott: Yeah, so a lot of the work that we've done on rice has been in Ghana. For a number of years we were very active in looking at rice and that was on sale in the market in Ghana. Some locally produced, some were imported, and the perception was that the imported stuff was of higher quality, higher value. Actually, it looked like some of the rice that was being imported into Ghana was actually not fit for human consumption, very badly contaminated with different types of fungi that produces different types of toxins.
(inaudible) in material is getting imported into that country because no other markets in the world take it. It can't get into Europe, it can't get into the US, it can't get into China because of the checks and inspections that go on.
Tom: What sort of health impacts are we seeing in countries from these incidents?
Chris Elliott: There is really no data. I can't tell you X number of people have got sick, Y number people have died.
Tom: But even anecdotally, what kind of conditions are we talking about potentially?
Chris Elliott: Well, often there are lots of reports, let's say, of much higher levels of liver cancer in these countries than would be in the North. A lot of exposure is because of toxic agents in the food stuff, particularly microtoxins.
Tom: Well, earlier I caught up with Dr. Earnest Teye, lead researcher of the Center for Food Integrity at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. Forgive me, I don't know what expertise others of you have, but yeah. Sorry, Louise, just hang on a second. Louise Manning, you've got some experience here too.
Louise Manning: So some of my PhD students have been looking at food supply chains, and the World (inaudible) Organization, especially again in Sub- Saharan Africa, and you have multiple millions of people living on less than a dollar a day per person. So food security is a real issue. If we're talking about the potential for carcinogens to be in food that would cause an impact in 30 days' time, but your concern is feeding your children today, will you be worried about mold in the maize when you purchase it when you have very, very limited incomes.
Will you be even able to find out any information about the food? And what's interesting or us in looking at some of the different markets, in the supermarket supply chain, there was much more information and people can, if they pay enough, more information about the food they eat and integrity associated with it. However, if you are buying in a market, there is very little information about that food and the quality standards are much lower, but they are the price you can afford as well.
But we also see that in the UK as well. There is already a two- tier food system in the UK. If you can afford to buy foods that are assured, that are of a certain standard, that are being produced in countries or supply chains where there's high levels of assurance, you will get one quality of food. If you purchase foods in other areas of our supply chain, you will have greater potential for fraud and greater potential for low- quality food. We've seen that in COVID. For me, that's the biggest impact, the disparity in health status during COVID.
Tom: Okay. Chris, you looked... Your examples, your study area was mainly Africa, Sub- Saharan Africa, West Africa. Would it be right to assume, I don't know whether Chris or anybody else wants to pick this up, but the same factors and the same problems could be happening across a lot of the Global South.
Chris Elliott: Oh yeah, I mean absolutely. We also did quite a lot of work in Southeast Asia. One of the biggest public health concerns in Bangladesh at the moment is lead poisoning across the entire population. A lot of that lead has come from the consumption of adulterated food believe it or not.
Tom: Wow. And adulterated, potentially deliberately or with knowledge that it's unsafe.
Chris Elliott: Oh, yes. Absolute deliberate, because a lead chromate, it's used to color food, particularly things like spices and you pay more for the high- value spices than you do for the lower standard. And the same thing happened, Tom, in Victorian Britain was with lead poisoning all led to adulteration of food.
Tom: There's some quick points ready to be made. I'm going to make this next point, and I think you can probably bring them into that because it is relevant. Religion, rapid development in the Victorian age, I'm wondering if what we've seen in China can also teach us something here, because it's my impression, I may be wrong, but 10 to 20 years ago we heard a lot about food fraud in China, a lot of bums, a lot of stories, meddling in baby formula, dodgy milk, fake eggs made with resin, et cetera, et cetera. But it appears to me that I've heard less recently. Are they beginning to get their act together, and if so, how so?
Kimberly Coffin: What I would say is are they getting their act together probably about a primary level, yes, but when we start talking about high- value manufactured good, we're still seeing high rates of counterfeit products that actually come out of the Chinese market.
Kimberly Coffin: Even in January, 2021 was one of the largest holes of counterfeit wine. It was Penfolds wine that was cheap, low value wine that was put into Penfolds bottles with very nice counterfeit labels as well as counterfeit stickers to the value of $ 20. 1 million US.
Kimberly Coffin: So some levels, yes. Other levels, no.
Louise Manning: I think we can differentiate between acute food safety issues that happen within a week or 10 days of eating food, and chronic food safety issues where a lot of the toxins where it may be 20 to 30 years before you demonstrate symptoms. If you are a business that is not careful with food safety and you have a chronic food safety issue, then you may choose not to disclose to the consumer because there's not going to have a need to impact.
But I think the one area where we haven't really touched on is undeclared allergens. And the biggest area where we see an acute impact, and we've seen deaths in the UK is where we've seen substitution of, for example, one nut for another. So we substitution of peanut powder for almond powder. If there's been a problem with the almond to harvest or the price goes up, and that goes into a curry. Ever often it may be labeled as almond powder.
Also, where we see the growing rise of vegan products and products being sold as coconut milk where at some point in that supply chain dairy milk has been substituted, they can cause anaphylactic shock and death very, very quickly. So I think within all the things that we're talking about, there are some very specific issues that all businesses need to think about, goes back to what John was saying about vulnerability. When you do your vulnerability risk assessment, if you have got powdered product, if you can't see what it is and there happens to be an allergen that has to really go up your risk rates in for food fraud.
Tom: Yeah. Well, that's a really interesting point. It reminds me of a story I did a few years ago about substitution of pork protein for chicken protein, which has huge issues with regard to ethical halal concerns, et cetera, which are an extremely important issue of the ingredients of food for certain sectors of the population. If I could just stick to the Chinese example for a moment, what I was wondering, and once again, I may be putting two and two together and making five here, Chris, is one of the ways you help prevent food fraud is you begin to build up the civil society, the policing, all the institutions around it. But when you are rapidly developing a gray area in economy, you don't have yet, but they do follow on. Maybe that's what we need to see in the rest of the Global South.
Chris Elliott: China is a great example because you're absolutely right. They were just fraught with scandal after scandal. It was gut royal, it was meddling in the milk. With China, I think the biggest impact was that consumers in China lost trust in food that was actually produced in China. The government in China got extremely worried about this because when you lose trust in your food supply system, actually you lose trust in your government. (inaudible) thing to happen in China.
So the actions of the president there, Xi Jinping, he declared that China was going to have the safest food safety system in the world, and he made that policy speech on quite a number of occasions and keeps doing it. What they did was, you're absolutely right, they invested in the infrastructure. There are more than one million food safety inspectors in China now. They have the most draconian legislation in the world. They have executed people who have perpetrated food fraud, so it is changing quite dramatically. Only in China will you et these changes happening so quickly.
Kimberly Coffin: I think one of the great things that I've seen that they've been doing in China recently is they've not actually introduced just recently new legislations whereby with marketplaces and online sales, the actual, the (inaudible) and the JD. coms can now be held responsible for the sale of fraudulent products on their marketplaces, which I'm not aware of anyplace else in the world that has actually enacted that type of control. I think that's one of the things that I wanted to say too with regards to the impact of the pandemic is you're actually starting to see food being purchased even in very developed countries on and through these marketplaces because people can find that they can afford food in those marketplaces that they can't necessarily buy in the standard supermarket. It offers a risk because they're virtually uncontrolled in many places.
Tom: What other set of solutions... Are there hand- held tech solutions out there that are going to enable us to identify the food is what it says it is? Perhaps in some of those credence areas as well, John.
John Spink: Well, the big thing is, is first don't be a solution looking for a problem to solve. Focus on the problem. So like in Nigeria when they had counterfeit medicines, they needed to have a way to test rapidly in the marketplace the products that were supposed to be there. They had these handheld devices that can check the profile of that product, the chemical fingerprint against what's supposed to be there.
Now, medicines are different because most of them are synthetic chemicals, really engineered so they're very precise. But they had a specific problem. Now another case, maybe if it was stolen goods, then if you authenticate the product, you'd know it was authentic, but you wouldn't know if it's stolen or not. We need to really apply the appropriate tool and method to a specific problem.
Tom: Louise, since I mentioned that you're across the DNA and the application of that for DNA testing.
Louise Manning: Well, I think what we have to think about is there are both targeted and untargeted methods. So an untargeted method produces a fingerprint for food where you can say, " This food is not as it should be." You don't know what it is. You don't know what's happened to it, but you can say, " This food product is not what it's reported to be on the label."
We can also have targeted methods where we know that there are certain problems in the supply chain where we can look for those individual products with foods that we know have had a history of that problem. One thing that's coming out of COVID is the laminar flow technology. I think that is really exciting if we are looking at proteins or DNA
Tom: Chris, beyond better civil institutions, possibly draconian penalties that we talked about earlier, what other solutions are there out there?
Chris Elliott: Really, what we are more involved in than in anything else, Tom, is we call it transparency, and transparency of supply chains. So it's generally those supply chains which are most opaque you have most of the problems with. So we're working quite a number of projects where we are digitizing the supply chains, adding different types of different technologies, block chain and so forth.
Tom: Hang on, I'm not going to allow you to use the B word without giving us your 20 or 30- second kindergarten explanation of what is block chain and how it can help in this space.
Chris Elliott: Okay. They record lots and lots of information on spreadsheets. You just do it in a digital way. That's all you're doing, you're putting information into big IT databases, and that can get shared across supply networks. But the thing, Tom, is block chain is wonderful, but it's nearly as easy to cheat on the digital ledger as it is on the spreadsheet as well.
So some of the things that Louise was talking about is you need tools to verify that the information going into those digital ledgers are correct and accurate. We're doing a lot of work in these. Look, this is my computer mouse and we can scan foods can produce fingerprints within a few seconds. Those fingerprint scans can also go into those digital ledgers and track them across supply chains as well.
And yes, there's a cost involved, but actually some of the information that is produced is actually helping drive productivity on farms as well. These technologies will pay for themselves.
Tom: So what, if any, is the role for the consumer in this, Kimberly?
Kimberly Coffin: If it looks too good to be true it probably is.
Tom: That was very short and sweet.
Kimberly Coffin: Look, if it's a deal, you better ask yourself a question about where did it come from, am I buying it from a reputable source, and it probably is.
Tom: Who else would I... Louise?
Louise Manning: what we're seeing is the rise of the use of social media. So there was a case probably about 18 months ago now with a pesto where it was actually identified by the company because somebody tweeted that their wife had had an allergic reaction to the pesto. That's how the industry found out there was peanuts in it.
Tom: They didn't know.
Louise Manning: They didn't know, no, because it had been substituted at some point in the supply chain.
Louise Manning: And so I think social media's very exciting in how that could be used for consumer assistance to report incidents.
Tom: Kimberly, it looks like you're keen to come back in.
Kimberly Coffin: Yes. Look, I think one thing that consumers also need to bear in mind in that looking for that deal, and actually it being too good to be true, is they need to keep in mind that the people that actually undertake this fraudulent activity, they don't necessarily have really the science to actually understand what they're doing and necessarily what the impact to the consumer's going to be.
Tom: John Spink.
John Spink: So this is back to the idea of understanding our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses. So we actually got together, because it's very unsatisfying to tell people to just be diligent. So we call it a five- word survey for consumers. Number one is, " Be careful what you put in you, on you, or plug in the wall." That's food, that's perfume, anything, and what you plug in. Because again, the things you plug in the wall, counterfeit Christmas tree lights could get in a fire. That's the first one is careful.
Second is quality. Can you judge the quality? Can you tell the difference between the $ 100 bottle of scotch and the $1, 000 bottle of scotch? I cannot. I realize that I don't have a great level of ability to identify that quality. Third is supplier. Do you have a relationship with the supplier? The key is does the supplier have a vested interest in keeping you as a repeat customer. If you get a spam email or find something online, just any old retailer you find, then they don't have a relationship with you. If you go to the store on the corner, there may be a fraud opportunity, but you have a relationship with them. You know where they are and they want you to come back in.
The fourth is online. Online is not necessarily bad. Like buying medicines online, as long as you get them from a trust source, like your healthcare professional or you go to a hospital website to find a link. The firth one is complain. If you think there's a problem, if you think there's an allergy reaction, the quality's off, complain. So careful, quality, supplier, online, and complain. And that's the way we can start to look at our vulnerabilities and act.
Tom: That is a really useful fivesome, I must say. One of the things I was wondering is whether... It's a bit of a trend, perhaps a middle class trend in Europe, but local. Does that give you any more protection, or is local just another opportunity for someone to con you? Anybody?
Chris Elliott: Yeah. So I think John's examples are very good, but in general buying local is good because the supply chains are much, much less complex, and you can trace where many things come from. I think UK- wise, and there are very, very few cheats that operate, so absolutely. I think also in terms of the UK, and the UK retail is now like a fortress. You need to be really silly to try to sell some fraudulent projects that are (inaudible) to the UK retailers, because they got their act together.
But I think we're talking about consumers, but responsibilities lie with food businesses. That's enshrined European law and laws around the world. Food businesses have to give us safe, authentic food. And it's also the responsibility of governments to ensure that food businesses are doing things appropriately.
Tom: Thank you very much indeed. I really enjoyed that 40 minutes or so. Really interesting stuff. Some things I really didn't know especially from the other side of the world. And also reflections on the growing opportunities for food fraud here in Europe and indeed North America. So just thank you very much indeed to John Spink, Chris Elliott, Louise Manning, and Kimberly Coffin. That's all from this edition of The Global Safety Podcast.