Issue #9 2021-10-11

You put WHAT in your coffee????

  • Fish feed sustainability questioned

  • Trusting the safety of new food additives; the FDA gets sued

  • Cyberattacks and insurance: a food company is disappointed

  • Pesticide alerts, a new perspective

  • Just for fun (coffee plus what?!)

  • Food fraud incidents and horizon scanning updates


Welcome to Issue 9. Hello to my new subscribers, who this week include Thomas from the Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (check out their monthy food safety information here) and Eliza, awesome Aussie food safety specialist and former colleague. Thanks for joining me.

This week’s issue includes two items that both - unfortunately - highlight inequalities in the global food environment. One is the issue of fish from some of the world’s hungriest nations being exported to Europe for use in its aquaculture industry. The exporting countries are left with a depleted marine environment and potential food security issues and activists are calling for change.

The second was inspired by an interesting article on the challenges of pesticide residues in global trade. Access to modern pesticides and laboratories is not the only issue affecting farmers in developing countries.

Also this week: everyone’s suing everyone in America and people are putting weird stuff in coffee.

Thanks for reading.


P.S. Want to know why I’m doing this? Find out here.

Sustainable Supply Chains

West Africa is feeding Europe’s fish farms… more each year

West African fish meal and fish oil production has increased by more than 10 times since 2010.  Mauritania’s exports of fish meal and fish oil grew by 16% in the last year alone.  The fish meal and fish oil are mainly exported to Europe for use in agriculture and fish farms.

The fish species that are used for fish meal production are staple foods in west Africa.  The price of such fish in Senegal is ‘rocketing’ and local, artisan fishers in the region are reporting depleted fish stocks, marine ecosystem damage and local food insecurity.  

Activists are calling for a ban on using human-edible fish for fish meal and oil production and significant reductions in the amount of fish taken from the region.  

As awareness of the ecological and human impacts from fish meal production grows, European aquaculture industries are likely to feel pressure to ensure their inputs are sustainably sourced. 

In short: 🍏 Activists are concerned about the damage to fish stocks in West Africa from fish meal and fish oil extraction 🍏 The volume of exports is increasing dramatically year on year 🍏 The marine environment and local food security is threatened 🍏 European acquaculture ventures should expect more scrutiny over their feed sources in future 🍏


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Food Regulations

Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) foods; tough questions for the US FDA

Judgement has been passed in a civil case against the US FDA over its handling of food with the legal status of GRAS (=Generally Recognised as Safe).

The FDA’s regulatory approvals process effectively allows food manufacturers to self-declare the safety status of new food additives and ingredients.  The plaintiffs claim that this ‘voluntary notification’ process is unconstitutional.

The judge found the FDA’s interpretation of the relevant statute, the Food Additives Amendment (1958), is reasonable and said that any change to the system would have to pass through Congress.

The FDA has received more than one thousand GRAS notices since 1998 and accepted most of them.

The lawsuit was lodged by an organisation called Earthjustice on behalf of the official-sounding Center for Food Safety and Environmental Defense Fund in 2017.

After the ruling was made last week, the Center for Food Safety, said they are “extremely disappointed by the court’s ruling that will continue to allow FDA to flout its regulatory duties and outsource the job to self-interested food corporations driven by their bottom line rather than the public interest.”

This lawsuit is unlikely to result in any review or amendments to the approvals process for GRAS food ingredients in the USA.  However, with chemical contamination of food a top concern among surveyed consumers (source, as always, is below), it seems likely that activist groups will continue to challenge the legal processes for food approvals.  

In short: 🍏 Food companies in the USA are allowed to self-declare new additives and ingredients as GRAS (generally recognised as safe) 🍏 A non-government group thinks that system is unconstitional and sued the FDA 🍏 The judge ruled that the approvals process for GRAS is a reasonable interpretation of the statute 🍏 Any change would have to go through (US) Congress 🍏 It’s ‘business as usual’ for GRAS approvals (for now) 🍏


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Food Supply Chains

Cyberattacks and insurance, a cautionary tale

A food company in the US has sued its insurer after the insurance company refused to pay out to cover the $100K ransom it paid to online criminals after a cyberattack.   They say their policy was supposed to cover losses from computer fraud.

The insurer said that there was no direct loss of assets from the attack and that ransom payments were explicitly excluded from coverage. The food company lost.

In short: 🍏 Don’t expect your business insurance to re-imburse you if you pay a ransom to cyberattackers 🍏


Food Safety

The untold story behind pesticide residue trade alerts

Have you ever been curious about the high number of trade alerts from pesticide residues in foods imported from developing countries?  Surely if you were going to the trouble of importing/exporting food you would make sure it didn’t contain illegal residues before you tried to move it across a border? Why are there so many notifications of pesticide residues?

One obvious reason is a lack of laboratory capacity in developing countries.  But there is more to it than that.  According to an article I read last week, new generation pesticides, with low application rates, can’t be used on many of the crops grown in developing countries.  These crops are considered too small for the pesticide companies to bother establishing usage guidelines.  This leaves the farmers with no choice but to use older pesticides that have established limits, potentially putting them in conflict with new regulatory limits in the importing regions.   

The article also explains why high levels of the insecticide chlorpyrifos can be found in non-agricultural products like smoked fish (nasty!)

In short: 🍏 When it comes to pesticide residues in foods from developing countries there are more causitive factors than you might expect 🍏

Read more (an interesting long read):

Crimes against food (but not food crimes)

Just for fun

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise upset the Twitterverse last week after suggesting that people should put mayonnaise in their coffee.  Not a lot of support for that idea.


In other food crime news from last week, Buzzfeed published a list of the worst offences, including over-boiling vegetables. Okay, not actual food crimes, but definitely crimes against food. My favourite? Adding mustard to chocolate milk (okaaaaaay).  Apparently iced coffee with lemonade is a thing too. 

Read more (WARNING, Time Waste Alert):


Food Fraud Incidents and Horizon Scanning

Food fraud incidents added to Food Fraud Risk Information Database in the past week

Food fraud horizon scanning alerts

Meat (USA)

The price of meat in USA went up significantly between August 2020 and August 2021.  Bacon is up 17%, Beef steaks 17%, fresh fish 11%, Chicken 9%, pork 8%.  04/10/2021

Meat, Shellfish and Ham (UK)

The National Food Crime Unit (United Kingdom) is investigating intelligence that a local company is fraudulently labelling imported meat as ‘British’.   They are also investigating thefts of animal by-products that may be getting diverted back into the human food supply chain.  In Scotland, poaching of shellfish and misrepresentation of ‘Parma’ ham is being investigated. 05/10/2021

Sri Lanka food prices and black market trading

A foreign currency crisis in Sri Lanka has led to food shortages.  The government imposed rationing  on 31st August 2021 and forced rice farmers to sell their rice to a state agency.  There has been significant black market trading of foods as sellers try to circumvent government price controls.  However, last week the government decided to deregulate prices for milk powder, flour and sugar in a bid to prevent black market trading.  Significant price rises are expected.  08/10/2021

Paraguay Mislabelling and Smuggling

It has been alleged that food sellers in Paraguay often relabel imported agricultural products as ‘locally grown’ amid multiple reports of contraband imports from neighbouring countries.

The Paraguayan government controls or restricts imports of commodities like green peppers and sugar to stimulate domestic production.  As a result, they are being smuggled illegally from countries including Argentina and Brazil.  Tomatoes, onions and poultry have also been illegally imported in recent months. 08/10/2021

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