How one mid-West farmer perpetrated massive organic fraud for years
Heavy metals in baby food, part 4 (let’s talk about limits)
Coffee and food fraud; quick primer
Regenerative is the new sustainable, here’s what you need to know
Food fraud incidents from the past week
Welcome to Issue #14 of The Rotten Apple and a big hello to all the lovely people from the Norwegian food and food testing industries who signed up last week, it’s wonderful to have you here!
This week I’ve been reading the story behind a famous and massive organic grain fraud in the USA; fascinating insights, highly recommended. The link is below.
Also this week, the fourth and final part of my series on heavy metals in baby foods, plus a quick primer on food fraud in coffee. And why sustainable food production will soon feel like an outdated concept.
As always, this issue ends with a list of updates to the Trello Food Fraud Risk Information Database from the past week.
Thanks for reading!
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Recommended reading; a fascinating exploration of large-scale organic grain fraud
Randy Constant, from the American Mid-West, started an organic food fraud scam in 2001. The scale of the fraud he perpetrated is massive.
Ian Parker of The New Yorker’s long read, published last week, provides fascinating insights into Constant’s mass fraud…
“Remember those railcars?” Bushman said.
Borgerding told Bushman that Organic Land Management had never sold grain to Bushman’s company.
There was a pause. Bushman then asked, with evident anxiety, how much corn Organic Land Management had been growing in Missouri in recent years. About fifteen hundred acres, Borgerding said. Both men were again silent. Borgerding recalls, “You could have heard a pin drop.”
The math didn’t work: Bushman had been buying far more corn from Constant than could possibly have been grown on Organic Land Management’s Missouri farms. It began to dawn on Borgerding that “we were not talking about a load or two—we’re talking millions of dollars of grain.”
🍏 Read the whole piece: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/11/15/the-great-organic-food-fraud 🍏
Arsenic in baby food, Part 4: the challenges of setting limits
Over previous weeks I have written about the on-going problem of arsenic and other heavy metals in baby foods in the USA. In this final part of the series I ask:
What is a ‘safe’ limit for arsenic in baby food?
To recap, baby food in the US has been repeatedly found to contain concerning levels of toxic heavy metals. Inorganic arsenic, one of the metals of concern, occurs naturally in rice which is a common (or main) ingredient in many baby foods. Just to be clear, there are no accusations of deliberate adulteration.
The current FDA guidance for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal is 100 parts per billion (ppb). This is an ‘action level’; a concentration above which the FDA says they will take action to remove products from the market.
The US House of Representatives Subcommittee that investigated the topic claims this level was set too high by the FDA. They say it was chosen to reflect manufacturer's’ ability to comply, rather than the safety of babies. In fact it is ten times higher than the (US) limit for arsenic in bottled water (10 ppb).
The challenge of setting limits is two-fold:
an ideal limit for any ‘toxic’ heavy metal is zero, however such limits are not achievable for metals like arsenic that occur naturally in foods
the true tolerable limit is impossible to determine without experimenting directly on human babies (!!)
Safety limits are derived in general by applying an appropriate uncertainty factor to the lowest-observed effect level (LOEL) or noobserved effect level (NOEL). The LOEL and NOEL levels are derived by observing people who have been exposed to the chemical of interest. As you might imagine, the quality and quantity of toxicological data is limited. This leaves limit-setting agencies in a difficult spot when they have to figure out what an acceptable exposure level might be.
The current guidance for arsenic is < 100 ppb and this is under review. If limits are reduced the FDA said it will happen slowly, allowing time for manufacturers to adjust their formulations and supply chains. New rules won’t be finalised until 2024 at the earliest, and fully implemented until 2026 or later.
In Europe, the limit for arsenic is similar to the current US guidance: 100 ppb for rice intended for infant food. The World Health Organisation limit is three times higher than that, at 300 ppb and the Australian limit is ten times higher, at 1 mg/kg (=1000 ppb).
Parents and governments will continue to be concerned about heavy metals in baby food, pressuring manufacturers to reduce levels. There are no easy answers. Naturally-occurring inorganic arsenic in rice represents a particular challenge to baby food manufacturers. Expect more demand for rice from low-arsenic growing areas and possible reformulation of some baby foods with more diverse cereals being included in formulations.
In short: 🍏 Baby foods in the USA are said to contain too much naturally occurring heavy metals, including arsenic 🍏 The government is calling for reduced limits and mandatory finished product testing 🍏 USA arsenic limits are currently similar to limits for Europe 🍏 New limits will challenge manufacturers to source rice that is naturally lower in arsenic 🍏 Reformulation of baby foods may also be necessary (but not easy!) 🍏
Source (US Government report):
Coffee; a food fraud risk overview
Coffee is among the foods considered most at risk from food fraud. In developing countries and growing areas coffee beans and ground coffee are adulterated with twigs, stones and corn husks to increase the apparent weight. In developed countries the most likely forms of fraud are related to claims about the provenance, origin, ethical, fair-trade, sustainable and organic status.
Raw coffee beans are very vulnerable to the following types of fraud:
- fraudulent claims about origin
- fraudulent claims about organic status, fair trade certification status
- fraudulent claims about growing practices, sustainability or forest management practices
- undeclared blending of old beans into newly grown beans
- varietal swapping, or blending in small amounts such as undeclared robusta in arabica
- theft (there have been multiple reports from Kenya of large-scale thefts perpetrated by organised cartels).
The worldwide demand for coffee is growing, particularly from increased consumption in emerging markets. However in the late 2010s, uncertainty for growers about the impacts of climate change and low prices for beans discouraged farmers from planting more coffee trees.
By 2015, experts were predicting long term supply shortfalls; a situation which they expected to become steadily worse.
In 2021, the cost of coffee beans soared nearly 43 percent in the USA. Extreme weather in the world's largest coffee exporter, Brazil, plus political unrest in Colombia and shipping bottlenecks are to blame. Prices in other coffee purchasing countries are similarly affected.
🍏 Source: https://trello.com/c/WnhE1O7G 🍏
Sustainable Supply Chains
Regenerative is the new sustainable, here’s what you need to know
Sustainability, it’s so 2019!
Here’s a prediction for the next first world trend for food and clothing production: regenerative. Sustainability is no longer good enough.
My first thought about ‘regenerative’ business activities: rich-country posturing! However, on second thought, the concept does have merit.
If you think about it, to be sustainable is to act in ways that don’t do more damage to the earth; to keep the status quo; to not make things worse. But if you consider how much damage we have already inflicted on our planet, it makes sense that we should be striving to make it better…. to regenerate.
According to one entrepreneur (source, as always is below):
“I mean, how inspiring is it to say we're focusing on sustainability, which is basically maintainability?” asks Scult. “There's nothing really inspirational about that. It’s like sending your kids to school and telling them to aim for a C average, to just maintain.”
What is regenerative?
Regenerative is using agricultural practices that replenish soils with organic matter, restore water supplies and draw carbon out of the atmosphere, at least according to one source.
What does it mean for the food industry?
Regenerative is a new opportunity to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers and raise the bar in good global citizenship. It is a step beyond sustainability.
There is already a certification scheme for food and textiles called Regenerative Organic Certification, which focusses on soil health, animal welfare and farm worker fairness.
In short: 🍏 To be sustainable is to not cause more damage to the earth 🍏 Regenerative goes beyond sustainable, in that it is about reversing environmental problems 🍏 Soil health, water supply improvements and carbon capture are regenerative agricultural concepts 🍏 Regenerative practices (and certifications) represent a new opportunity for food brands 🍏
Certification scheme: https://regenorganic.org/
Food Fraud Incidents and Horizon Scanning
Food fraud incidents added to Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week
An investigation into expiry date fraud and large volumes of untraceable or re-labelled food that began 3 years ago has culminated in the arrest of 22 people - Spain 22/11/2021 https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2021/11/22-arrested-in-spain-after-unfit-food-findings/