Issue #47 2022-07-18
Surprising seafood fraud, drugs in meat, vegan food definition and life cycle assessments
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Seafood fraud: the stats are in and they might surprise you
Human drugs in pork and poultry, an unusual food fraud
Vegan food - a legal definition
What exactly is Life cycle Assessment (LCA)?
Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates from the past week
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This week’s food fraud news had me reminiscing about Uganda, where I spent two weeks as a backpacker in 1998. I remember buying a wheel of cheese from a village cheese house; a nondescript concrete-block building with a tin roof, no glass in the windows and a dirt floor. The wheel was the size of a side-plate, tall and surprisingly heavy, with a pale yellow rind. The cheese-seller lifted it carefully from the wooden racks of dozens of identical wheels - there was only one type of cheese in that town - then wrapped it carefully in newspaper for me to take ‘home’ where it was to be a gift for my host.
I remember Uganda for its warm, energetic people and bicycle “taxis” that wobbled alarmingly when the passenger was a tall mzungu (me) wearing a 17 kg backpack full of guidebooks and camera batteries. I explored an abandoned lake resort that had been occupied by Idi Amin’s violent military regime. I ate delicious roasted plantains and fermented milk drinks and many meals of rice and beans served on dented metal plates. But I don’t remember eating Ugandan pork, which is the subject of this week’s weirdest food fraud news.
Also this week: the data is in on seafood fraud, and it’s unexpected. The well-respected food integrity research team at Queens University Belfast has checked the stats and destroyed the idea that species misrepresentation is the biggest problem in seafood fraud.
Plus: there is now a legal definition for vegan food – in India. And I explain what a life cycle assessment (LCA) is and why all food compliance professionals need a basic understanding of LCAs.
This issue ends with food fraud incidents and horizon scanning news, for paying subscribers.
Have a fabulous week.
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Cover image: Milo Weiler on Unsplash
Seafood fraud: the stats are in and the results are surprising
Seafood is one of the most vulnerable food categories when it comes to food fraud. There are just so many ways that fraud can be perpetrated in a seafood supply chain.
It starts with illegal fishing, which can take the form of harvesting from not-permitted areas, or at not-permitted times. Illegal fishing can also take the form of quota-breaking (taking too many animals), catching protected species or using disallowed catch methods.
After the animals are landed on shore, they can be misrepresented by the organisation that harvested them, or by the traders who sell them, or by the processors who handle them. How might they be misrepresented? They might be claimed to be from a different geographical origin, a different catch method, or even of a different species.
Then you have processing or treatment frauds, such as increasing the weight of shrimp by soaking them in gels and other liquids or treating tuna with chemicals to make it look fresher.
Then there is smuggling and subsidy fraud, where seafood is imported and exported clandestinely to evade duties or gain subsidies intended for locally-grown seafood.
Finally, there’s expiry date fraud, in which frozen seafood is made to seem less ‘old’ than it really is.
And don’t forget human slavery in the fishing and fish processing industries.
Many academic studies about seafood fraud investigate mislabelling fraud – think pollock instead of cod, tilapia instead of snapper.
However, the highly-respected food integrity research team at Queens University Belfast has destroyed the idea that species misrepresentation is the biggest problem in seafood fraud.
They investigated a decade’s worth of data from four food fraud reporting databases and found that the “most significant issue of concern” is illegal or unauthorised veterinary residues in farmed seafood from Vietnam, China and India.
The veterinary residues are unauthorised antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides with the most notable being nitrofuran antibiotics in crustaceans (shrimp, crabs, lobsters, etc.) and, for finfish, the presence of malachite green fungicides. The antibiotic chloramphenicol was found in crustaceans, molluscs and fish.
Species substitution turned out to be pretty far down the list. It was the sixth most prevalent fraud type, after chain-of-custody abuse, illegal or unauthorised international trade, illegal processing and undeclared production extension.
If you are into food fraud, their research paper is a good read (how rare is that!), highly recommended and open access.
In short: 🍏 The type of food fraud responsible for the largest number of detected incidents in seafood is unauthorised residues in crustaceans and finfish 🍏 Species substitution was less prevalent than expected 🍏
Small-Holder Farming Fraud (It’s a Weird One)
Uganda is a country of about 43 million people in East Africa with a mostly rural population, a large rate* of AIDs infection and a (relatively) progressive approach to AIDs treatments.
A significant number* of Ugandans are being treated with government-supplied anti-viral medications.
This has led to some pretty weird things happening in food production in Uganda.
Some farmers are feeding human AIDS medicines to their pigs and chickens to make them grow faster and larger and to protect them from diseases like African Swine Fever and Newcastle Disease.
“You see, when these pigs are given ARVs, they grow faster and fatter and are sold off quickly. I know someone who uses ARVs for their pigs, his pigs eat a lot, grow so fast and are sold off real fast, and they also take long to fall sick”. Member of a focus group interviewed by researchers in 2019
Residues of human anti-viral medicines have been found in pork and chicken meat and in commercial animal feeds in Uganda, in at least two separate peer-reviewed studies.
In one study 27 percent of pork samples were affected.
This practice not only makes the meat potentially unsafe for consumers but also has wider human health implications. Researchers reported that the farmers obtain the anti-viral medications from AIDs patients, who should be taking the drugs for their own health.
This type of activity is also likely to be occurring in neighbouring East African countries such as Kenya.
*I tried to get firm numbers but couldn’t
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A Legal Definition for Vegan Food
Legal definitions for food claims like “Natural”, “Vegetarian”, “Paleo” and “Vegan” are surprisingly few and far between across the globe. But a vegan definition and new rules for vegan foods just came into effect in India.
Under the rules, vegan foods have to use a government-regulated logo on their packages. There are strict rules around production methods – such as cleaning between non-vegan and vegan production runs – and traceability so that the vegan status of the foods can be protected and confirmed.
The importation of vegan foods is also strictly controlled, and such foods are only allowed from certain countries and must be accompanied by an approved certificate.
“Vegan food means the food or food ingredient, including additives, flavourings, enzymes and carriers, or processing aids that are not products of animal origin and in which, at no stage of production and processing, ingredients, including additives, flavourings, enzymes and carriers, or processing aids that are of animal origin has been used.” Food Safety and Standards Authority of India Regulation 33074/2022
What exactly is Life cycle Assessment (LCA)?
Like many food compliance professionals, I’m not completely confident in my knowledge of sustainability claims for food. But with more companies being accused of “greenwashing” every week, it’s important that all food professionals understand the basic concepts that underpin sustainability claims.
Last month Tesco (a major British food retailer) joined a long line of food companies that have been publicly disgraced for making unsubstantiated claims about their products’ sustainability – in other words, “greenwashing”. The United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) took action after consumers complained. The problem? … advertisements for Tesco’s Plant Chef vegan burgers claimed that eating them can “make a difference to the planet”.
To be honest, compared to eating a meat-based burger, it would be hard to argue that a plant-based burger isn’t at least a little bit “better”, at least with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.
Nevertheless, Tesco got slapped with a ban. The ASA said that Tesco should have had evidence based on the full life cycle of the product, and a comparison with the full life cycle assessment (LCA) of a meat burger.
Tesco did not have a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for their burger.
A Life Cycle Assessment is an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of a product over its entire ‘life’, including greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of land, water use, toxicity, minerals and other extractive industries.
Life cycle assessments also address the recyclability of a product and its packaging.
To create an LCA, you start by mapping the life cycle of the product, including its sourcing, production, distribution, use, disposal and recovery. Inputs and outputs such as energy use and raw materials and included.
The completed LCA can be used as a decision-making tool to help a business decide which product or production method is more sustainable than another and to see where improvements can be gained.
Tesco could have used an LCA to “prove” that their plant-based burgers were better for the planet than an equivalent meat-based burger. If only they had bothered to create one.
An explanation of the ISO standards for Life Cycle Assessments, ISO 14040/14044: https://pre-sustainability.com/articles/lca-standards-and-guidelines/
A discussion of food marketing claims about sustainability: https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/article/166195/a-loud-call-for-harmonised-sustainability-labelling/
The Tesco ban story: https://www.newfoodmagazine.com/news/165582/misleading-tesco-plant-based-food-advert-banned-by-asa/
Below for paying subscribers: Food fraud incident reports - including some very funny honey, horizon scanning updates, plus an awesome audio version read aloud by me … Check out an example to see how the email looks (and sounds) for paying subscribers here.
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