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Food fraud

Food fraud

When you pick up a jar of sweet lime pickle from a supermarket shelf, how do you know what’s in it? Many consumers take the ingredients for granted. One survey published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion last year estimated that 48 percent of shoppers didn’t read the labels on food and found that 58 percent of those who read them say they don’t really understand them1.

On the pickle jar, the label’s list of ingredients would read something like this: lime, vegetable oil, acid regulator, fenugreek seeds, mustard powder, turmeric powder, garlic powder, yellow mustard seeds, black mustard seeds, chilli powder, asafetida powder, paprika powder, dried chilli flakes and paprika extract for coloring.

This all looks very reassuring – especially if the jar is from a brand you trust – but every day across the world, consumers are not getting what they are paying for. Their food may be counterfeited to resemble a favorite brand, adulterated with cheaper ingredients and marketed as sustainable when it isn’t. In extreme cases, the food bears no resemblance to the ingredients on the label – as happened in Israel in 2004 when health ministry officials seized 80,000 cans of dog food that had been relabeled to be sold as liver pâté and pâté foie gras.

Substituting dog food for pâté is an extreme example of the kind of fraud that, Ian Proudfoot, Global Head of Agribusiness, KPMG in New Zealand, says is endangering consumers’ health, hurting food and drink brands and costing manufacturers billions of dollars a year.

The world’s food system is worth around US$8.1trn and, if you are selling into markets with high levels of product counterfeiting, the total cost may be 2-5 percent of revenue. I do not have a figure I can put on the losses but I would be very surprised if the cost to the global food system is less than US$100 billion. - Ian Proudfoot, Global Head of Agribusiness, KPMG in New Zealand


1Food Label Reading: Read Before you Eat, Journal of Education and Health Promotion, April 2018.

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