Food companies accused of deforestation - two case studies
Authenticity testing breakthrough?
China boosts food fraud enforcement with a new initiative
Murderer’s burgers (okaaaay)
Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates from the past week
“People aren’t really aware their cheese has deforestation in it”
So said Greenpeace UK last week. Interesting choice of words!
Welcome to Issue 10. This week I look at two separate stories in which food brands are accused of problems in their supply chains and discuss their responses, including best practices.
Also this week; new research that might help reduce the cost and difficulty of provenance testing for food fraud, plus a new initiative in Chinese enforcement.
As always, this issue ends with a list of food fraud incidents from the past week.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. If you know someone who’d enjoy this newsletter, please share it with them. It’s free to subscribe and your email doesn’t get sold, shared or added to any other list. Ever.
Sustainable Supply Chains
How food companies respond to accusations, two case studies
Deforestation. Part one - Palm Oil
Big brand food companies, including Kellogg and Nestle have been accused of using unsustainably produced palm oil (again!).
A report by Global Witness, an international NGO that investigates corruption, unsustainable growing practices and human rights abuses has accused Malaysian palm oil companies operating in Papua New Guinea of unsustainable practices and child labour.
The oil is said to be purchased by palm oil suppliers who supply companies including Kellogg and Nestle. Both food companies have policies for sourcing palm oil responsibly.
Kellogg confirmed to reporters that that some of its palm oil suppliers had indirectly made purchases from the companies in Papua New Guinea and took immediate action to remove the companies from its supply chain. Nestle said it was investigating and would act in a similar manner if its supply chain was found to be affected.
Global Witness reports that the Malaysian interests first benefit by logging the Papuan rainforests for tropical timber, then planting palm oil trees. It is alleged that tens of thousands of acres of virgin rain forest have been cleared to date. The NGO also alleged that the company’s logging permits may also have been obtained through corrupt means. The use of illegal child labour was also alleged.
The takeaway for food companies? Palm oil accounts for around one third of edible oils produced globally and is used a huge array of food products. Companies like Kellogg and Nestle purchase enormous quantities of palm oil. If even a tiny proportion of their supply chain is found to be linked to organisations that are behaving badly, they are ‘named and shamed’ for breaking their own sustainability policies.
In this case, both Kellogg and Nestle responded swiftly to media requests about their supply chains. As a result, they had an opportunity to describe mitigating actions in the first news reports about the investigation, which limited damage to their brands. Their internal systems clearly served them well.
Consumers and the media are becoming more interested in sustainability issues, so food companies should expect to be questioned publicly over their supply chains more often. A crisis plan for such possibilities should include: knowing what to say, who will say it and how to access detailed supply chain information quickly.
Deforestation. Part two - Dairy foods
Also last week, more big food brands were publicly shamed for causing deforestation in Brazil. I reckon the link is a bit tenuous, but that didn’t stop the media from naming the brands, including famous British butter, cheese and chocolate brands.
Here’s the problem: Dairy food is made from milk. Milk comes from dairy cows. Dairy cows are fed on a mix that contains 1 – 2% soy. Some of that soy may be coming from areas of Brazil that have recently been de-forested.
Greenpeace UK said “People aren’t really aware their cheese has deforestation in it”
Deforestation is occurring in Brazil as farmers clear forest to grow soybeans. According to an investigation by media groups and Greenpeace, the US food company Cargill sources some of its soy from recently-deforested areas of Brazil. Cargill supplies soy to UK feed companies, which might result in British dairy cows eating ‘deforestation’ soy.
The feed companies say they rely on sustainability certifications to ensure the soy they use is not from recently deforested areas. However, the investigators imply in their report that Cargill either knowingly supplies soy from recently cleared areas or has been misled by their soy suppliers about its source(s).
Cargill promised to investigate and take immediate action if the grievances were found to be true.
Meanwhile, the food brands scrambled to respond. Dairy farmers and dairy food companies said they thought they had been doing the right thing. Some companies said they purchase carbon offsets to cover the parts of their supply chains that were not sustainable-certified.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said – somewhat unhelpfully – that is has “called on the Brazilian government to stop Amazon deforestation for soy production.”
…. Because the government of the world’s 6th most populous country will definitely listen to a group of British supermarkets…
Guidance for ‘green’ claims on its way
The United Kingdom’s Environment Agency has launched a project that aims to establish standard metrics for measuring environmental performance of foods and beverages. The project hopes to eliminate ‘greenwashing’ in the sector.
If successful, the standard should provide a useful framework that small to medium food companies can follow when talking about their environmental credentials.
In short: 🍏 Consumers and media are becoming increasingly interested in food supply chains 🍏 Accusations of unsustainable practices are being levelled at food brands 🍏 Food companies should be prepared to respond swiftly to such accusations 🍏 Crisis plans should include: what will be said, who will say it and how supply chain information can be accessed quickly 🍏 Anti-greenwashing guidance is under development in the UK. It may be useful to food companies internationally 🍏
A solution to the database problem in authenticity testing?
Food authenticity testing can be harder than it first appears.
If you want to look for food fraud you can do either ‘targeted’ or ‘non-targeted’ testing.
In targeted testing, you know what type of food fraud that you are looking for. It is usually cheaper and easier than non-targeted tests, but it won’t identify frauds that are not being tested for. For example, a targeted test might show you whether pork DNA is present in lamb. But it won’t help you to understand if the lamb is genuinely halal or if it has the geographical provenance claimed on the label.
Non-targeted testing allows you to look for frauds that you don’t know about by comparing the test sample against a database of samples that are known to be authentic. The methods make use of sophisticated mathematical models that compare results, such as the shape of a spectrum from a spectroscopic test, to a database of spectra from authentic samples.
Non-targeted testing can be very powerful. But the databases that are needed are expensive and time consuming to create. Now, a researcher in Switzerland has come up with a solution that replaces the need to build databases for non-targeted stable isotope tests.
His method makes use of oxygen isotope data from publicly available environmental databases, such as precipitation and climate data from growing and harvesting seasons. By comparing the isotope ‘fingerprint’ of a sample to environmental data, he found it is possible to accurately predict the geographical provenance and time of strawberry samples from Europe and Northern Africa.
The method is said to be suitable for use with most agricultural products and all geographical regions. Timber industry watchdogs are also interested in the method as it will be able to determine the origin and the time of harvesting of illegally logged timber.
Although this method is not yet publicly available, it may be an important leap forward in testing for provenance-related food fraud.
In short: 🍏 Non-targeted testing is currently limited by the need to build expensive databases for each commodity and geographical area 🍏 This new method may allow geographical origin testing to be done without having to first build extensive databases for specific foods 🍏 This will reduce the cost of detecting and combatting provenance fraud 🍏
Food Fraud Enforcement
Enforcement just got a boost in China
Employees and members of the public will be given rewards of up to $155,000 by the Chinese government for whistleblowing about corporate wrongdoing related to food, pharmaceuticals and safety equipment. Counterfeit and unsafe products as well as illegal conduct are being targeted.
Whistleblowers will be protected under the new rules and false claims will be punished.
China is a country with rapidly growing numbers of corporate entities, and with a history of food fraud problems. This initiative will assist authorities to identify and eliminate instances of food fraud.
In short: 🍏 New rewards for whistleblowing should help anti-food-fraud enforcement in China 🍏
When in Rome (just for fun)
Burgers in bad taste
A convicted murderer and drug trafficker has opened a burger restaurant in Rome that celebrates organised crime after being released from prison.
The food is named after ‘celebrities’ in the local crime community. And, according to a cheeky note in the menu, prosecutors and judges will be charged more for their meals.
Food Fraud Incidents and Horizon Scanning
Food fraud incidents added to Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week
Tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes marketed with fraudulent origin/provenance claims have resulted in fines and prosecutions - Italy https://ilsalvagente.it/2021/09/17/133562falso-pachino-igp-sequestrate-quasi-10mila-bottiglie-a-siracusa/
Capers which were falsely labelled as being "of the Aeolian Islands" - a protected designated origin (PDO), were instead found to be from Syria, Morocco and Tunisia – Italy https://www.ilcittadinodimessina.it/news.asp?idz=4&idsz=0&idn=70172&R=rss
An importer who imported counterfeit foods, breached rules for good manufacturing and storage and changed the expiry dates of foods and beverages has had their goods confiscated. The foods included olive oil, alcoholic beverages, prawns and strawberry truffles - Bolivia https://eju.tv/2021/09/cuatro-toneladas-de-alimentos-vencidos-y-adulterados-son-decomisados-en-santa-cruz/
The manager of a wholesale store has been arrested after authorities received a tip off that he was selling counterfeit tea with the labels of a popular brand - India https://www.naveenbharat.in/panchkula-4370-fake-packets-of-tata-tea-recovered-manager-of-wholesale-shop-arrested/
Thirty four people have died and dozens more remain seriously ill after consuming illegally-produced alcoholic beverages that contain methanol - Russia https://www.rt.com/russia/537167-orenburg-russia-alcohol-methanol/
Other updates to the Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week)
Horsemeat and Beef (Europe)
Rules for racehorses have been changed in Britain in an attempt to reduce the number of ex-racehorses entering the human food chain in Britain. From 2022 racehorses will not be allowed to compete unless they have been officially signed out of the human food chain through a declaration in their horses passports. It is unclear of how this will impact the likelihood of fraudulent sales of horsemeat in the United Kingdom; the rule is mostly intended to improve animal welfare, by allowing for horses to receive painkilling drugs if injured on a racecourse. However, it may reduce the availability of horsemeat in the United Kingdom, potentially impacting fraud activities. 07/10/2021 https://www.bbc.com/sport/horse-racing/58827492.amp
Poultry - United Kingdom
The largest poultry seller in the United Kingdom, which produces around one third of all poultry consumed there, has warned of impending retail price rises for chicken of 10%. This is due to supply chain problems, including labour shortages and transport issues; the rising cost of feed, energy and packaging and the recent CO2 crisis in UK. 15/10/2021 https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58895250
Edible oils - India
The Indian government has imposed limits on holding and trading of vegetable oils and edible oilseeds in an attempt to stabilise local prices of edible oils, which have increased by up to 46% in the last year. Future trading of mustard oil and oilseeds has been suspended – India https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/centre-imposes-stock-limits-on-edible-oils-to-soften-prices-in-market-121101000414_1.html