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.
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.”