Discover more from The Rotten Apple
Issue #29 2022-03-14
Recycled food packaging, net zero claims checked and wine fraud
Plastic packaging; a new way to verify recycled content
Bees go travelling
Checking big corporations’ claims about emissions reductions
Wine fraud, without the wine
Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates from the past week
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Fraud in food packaging is a bit of an unknown. But it’s likely that some packaging suppliers and users are making fraudulent claims about how much post-consumer recycled material is in their products. New tech could change that.
Also this week; a report into the emission reduction activities of 55 big corporations. One food company got top marks. Plus a fascinating look at the travel habits of bees and wine fraud.
As always, this issue ends with food fraud incidents and food fraud horizon scanning updates that were added to our database in the last week.
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Food (Packaging) Fraud
Traceable, Verifiable Recycled Content in Plastic Packaging
I’ve been worried for some time about the fraud potential in recycled plastic packaging. As more companies and jurisdictions choose to mandate minimum concentrations of recycled components, the pressure is on to be able to verify that those claims are true.
At the moment, the only way to verify is to rely on traceability systems, mass balance calculations, and self-declarations. Which are open to manipulation, over-estimation, and downright fraud.
Good news though.
It will soon be possible to make plastic packaging with an easily verifiable amount of recycled content.
Plastics manufacturers will be able to buy post-consumer recycled plastic masterbatch that contains a special chemical marker. The marker will allow the amount of recycled content in the finished product to be accurately measured.
The marker is an FDA-listed chemical that has been approved for use in food contact packaging. It provides a fluorescence signature in the finished product that can be measured using inexpensive spectroscopy equipment.
It works for PET, HDPE, and PP.
I was worried about unscrupulous operators faking the spectrum – of course I was! – But, apparently, the fluorescence signature is not easy to fake, because the spectrum changes as the recycled components are incorporated into the final product.
When this technology is available, a reclaimer will be able to make a masterbatch with a traceable concentration. The fluorescence signature of the masterbatch will be trackable all the way through to the final product. The signature provides quantitative information which can be compared to recycled-content claims.
“The unique nature of the innovation means that quantification can be made using multiple techniques. The layering of these different detection methods makes fraud more difficult, but also gives more accurate and precise results across a range of packaging plastics,” said Mike Shaver, a professor of polymer science at the University of Manchester and one of the inventors of the technology.
If all goes well, the product and an accompanying trust mark will be commercially available in the next year. If you make or use plastic packaging, this could be a game-changer for you.
In short: 🍏 Recycled packaging fraud is likely to be occurring 🍏 New tech could make it easier to verify recycled content without relying on traceability exercises 🍏
Bees Go Travelling
You probably already knew that bees are an important pollinator. You probably already knew that domesticated honey bees are hired out by apiarists to farmers to pollinate crops like almonds and blueberries.
But here’s some more fascinating info about how honey bees travel.
Sustainable Supply Chains
Net Zero Claims Under the Microscope
Let’s talk about greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Many food companies have set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s all very nice, but are those targets working? And which companies are being transparent about their progress.
A new report by the non-profit As You Sow gives 55 major corporations a scorecard on their progress towards net zero. They took a hard-line stance on “Scope 3” emissions, which are emissions made by their suppliers and customers. For example, in a quick-service restaurant chain, scope 3 emissions would include things like electricity used by franchise outlets, business travel by company executives, and waste generated.
They also gave little kudos to companies that were achieving reductions by buying carbon offsets, saying “frankly there are not enough offsets in the world to allow companies to continue business as usual. Companies have to, in the near term, do all of their emission reductions in-house or through their supply chain.” (Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel at As You Sow.)
Companies that are reducing their overall emissions at a rate consistent with a global 1.5% reduction in greenhouses gases received an A grade in the report.
🍏 Quick primer on Scopes, from US EPA Website: “Scope 1 emissions are direct greenhouse (GHG) emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization (e.g., emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles). Scope 2 emissions are indirect GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling. Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain, and include all sources not within an organization’s scope 1 and 2 emissions.” 🍏
Transparency matters: companies that weren’t sharing enough data publicly were scored zero in the relevant categories.
I was surprised to read that more than one-third of the corporations didn’t have any published greenhouse gas emission goal. Of those that did, few were sufficient to meet overall reduction goals of 4.2% per year in the immediate future, which scientists say is needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
Most companies are not doing a good job at disclosing emissions from their entire value chain – scope 3 emissions – say the report writers. But how on earth do you even figure out what those emissions are with any degree of confidence?
One company in the energy sector was blasted by the report authors for proudly achieving excellent reductions in their scope 1 and 2 emissions, while ignoring their supply chain, which accounts for 91% of their total emissions.
So who’s doing well in the international food industry? Pepsico, for one. They were one of only two companies that scored an “A” grade for overall performance. Microsoft was the other. Unfortunately, Pepsico was the only food company among the 55 included in the report. The 55 companies covered by the report were “the five largest market cap companies in each of 11 [stock market investment] sectors [GICS]”. I assume that they mean the five largest American companies, although the report does not say.
These days, it’s expected that corporations account for their whole supply chain – upstream and downstream – when they set targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions. That means estimating, reducing and reporting on indirect emissions in addition to the direct emissions from burning fossil fuels and using energy in their own facilities. At the same time, it’s becoming less acceptable for companies to purchase carbon offsets while carrying on “business as usual”. This is a tough situation for food businesses that want to be good global citizens. But it’s a problem that is not going away. Acknowledging the challenges we face as an industry and being transparent about emissions across the whole food supply chain are a good starting point.
In short: 🍏 Ignoring indirect greenhouse gas emissions from the value chain is so last decade 🍏 The food industry has major challenges with estimating and managing emissions by upstream and downstream supply chain actors 🍏 Start by acknowledging the challenges of quantifying indirect emissions 🍏
GICS Sector classifications: https://www.msci.com/our-solutions/indexes/gics
This wine didn’t exist and it was still used for fraud… Plus a marvellous article about the history of wine fraud
Fine wine is an appreciating asset, which makes it a good financial investment. The problem with fine wine is that – unlike an asset like artwork – you can only enjoy the asset by destroying it. Open a bottle of fine wine and it’s no longer an investment. It’s just a drink.
Wine fraud is common and occurs with both low-priced and high-priced wines. Wine fraud includes counterfeit-type fraud, in which ‘fakes’ of famous brands of wine are produced and marketed by unauthorised operators. It can also be perpetrated by genuine brand owners when they make false claims about varietals or provenance.
When wine investing became more lucrative than the stock market and gold last year, two men cashed in on the trend with a fraud of their own. But they didn’t bother to make fake labels or buy cheap blends. They took it one step further and perpetrated their fraud with non-existent wine.
They offered investors returns derived – they said – from loaning money to wealthy wine collectors, who used their wines as collateral. The wines were supposedly stored in the fraudsters’ cellar for safekeeping. Except the cellar didn’t contain as much wine as claimed, and the fraudsters were paying their early investors using the capital obtained from later investors. A Ponzi scheme in other words. The men face up to 20 years in prison.
Wine fraud is as old as the hills. In the first century AD, the Roman author Pliny the Elder, wrote about friends who claimed to be drinking a special ‘brand’ of wine, but he knew what they were serving was fake. In the 1400s a German winemaker was found guilty of adulterating wine and was forced to drink two bottles of his wares. He died.
In 2004, a group of French growers exported 13.5m litres of “pinot noir” to America, which was odd. Their wine region produced less than half that amount of pinot noir each year. Turns out they were sending merlot and shiraz instead, labelled as pinot noir. No one in America noticed.
These stories are from a long, and fascinating article published in The Guardian last month about wine frauds and the ‘detective’ who authenticates investment wines. If you have the time, it is a great read. A link is below.
Ponzi scheme source: https://www.foodandwine.com/news/wine-broker-fraud-bordeaux-cellars-ponzi-scheme
Food Fraud Incidents and Horizon Scanning
Food fraud incidents added to Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week
Cocoa, sweets, baking powder and foods of animal origin from food warehouses were withdrawn from the market or prevented from being sold by inspectors who discovered they were up to 7 years past their expiry dates - Hungary
Food fraud horizon scanning (other updates to the Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past fortnight)
Bird flu is at its worst in the United Kingdom, which is having its largest ever outbreak. Housing and biosecurity changes, plus culling have been implemented for ducks and chickens - United Kingdom
Free-range egg claims are under pressure in Europe. There is a bird flu epidemic so hens are not allowed outside, meaning their eggs cannot be classified as free-range - Europe
Here’s what you missed last month
Should you serve pink hamburger or minced meat? (Issue #24)
Were we wrong about honey fraud? (Issue #25)
Doubts cast about authenticity tests of supplements (Issue #26)
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