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Monday, 3 March 2014

Fighting Fraud – Like Fighting Volcanic Eruptions

The report about Europol seizing tonnes of fake food reminds me of the 2011 Iceland volcanic eruption that stranded many air flights across Europe. The report (link is posted at the bottom of this post) raises very important questions:

Food fraud is indeed becoming more complex than the solutions being applied. For example, how are fraudsters learning the information that helps them to develop more sophisticated methods of avoiding being caught? They may very well be attending conferences or courses that teach how to "catch and punish" them. This is the predominant focus of the solutions being suggested. The industry can do better:

Is the extent of food fraud worldwide a surprise to anyone? Is product counterfeiting the only kind of fraud that is taking place? Has the reported Europol or similar arrests reduced the problem of fraud to any measurable degree? Do more stringent regulations and expanded crackdowns solve the problem? Do we even know that these efforts are thwarted because many people are benefiting economically from the perpetration of fraud (cartels, businesses, agencies, individuals, etc)?

With food fraud, my greatest disappointment is that failed solutions are continuing to be repeated. Much of the effort is directed at fighting the volcanic eruptions while the molten lava pressure builds underneath. Many opportunists have also emerged with their “snake ointment” solutions. They do not even recognize that they are very much a part of the problem due to the fraudulent nature of the solutions they offer. These fraudulent solution providers enjoy a continuing bounty from a problem they fail to solve and, in fact, wish to see continue. To win over more buyers for their systems and superficial strategies, many anti-fraud solution purveyors openly advertise their proposals.

No Military force, strategist or intelligence agency exposes its plans to the enemies. Criminal elements hide their strategies with determination. So do food fraudsters. Why then are food fraud solution providers publishing their plans and strategies so openly that even the so-called criminals can see them? With the criminal elements remaining determined to dodge detection, not one of the openly published (anticipating, detecting, avoiding or minimizing) strategies can be accomplished with any degree of confidence at any time or at any point. Proposals that ignore these realities are proposals that wastefully engage common intelligence. As resources are wastefully expended in pursuing these failure-prone solutions, the situation is worsened. When fraudsters see the superficiality of mere paperwork efforts aimed at countering their tricks, they simply laugh. In fact, fraudsters may even be willing to financially or otherwise support superficial anti-fraud efforts as these provide sufficient distractions. They take the focus of industry away from doing what actually prevents fraudulent practices.

Another disappointment comes from the fact that many people erroneously think that they are unaffected by food fraud but we are all victims. Like the ash from the Iceland volcano, food fraud affects all of us. 

Imagine that every country has the same kind of volcano as the one in Iceland and all of them regularly erupt. That is more like the picture with food fraud worldwide. Every country has active fraud perpetrators. The eruptions and fall-outs affect everyone in each country with spill-over to people in other countries. We are all victims of fraudulent food formulations with silent killer additives and other forms of intentional and deadly adulteration practices that are going on undetected.

The reported Europol seizure provides a good picture of the extent of food fraud. The affected scope is far-reaching. The Interpol-Europol operation reportedly went across 33 countries in the Americas, Asia and Europe, and the products involved included oil, vinegar, biscuits, chocolate, cereals, spices, dairy products and honey. You may even have had or still have some of the affected products in your pantry. If not from the products affected by this Europol operation, you may have consumed products from other undetected instances of food fraud. Many of the fraudulent actions produce, not instant, but silent and gradual death sometimes with chronic health issues. The effects of fraudulent actions may not be immediately apparent but they are not any less deadly to individuals and societies.

The situation may seem hopeless at times as the number of detected incidents continues to grow but the problem of food fraud can be solved to a measurable and reasonable extent. This will require a focus on tackling the root causes instead of the eruptions. 

Wherever behaviour modification is desired, as in the case of food industry fraud, relying on policing as the only means for achieving it guarantees failure. Even education fails where it focuses only on the matters of detecting and punishing violators.

The predominant focus on detecting and avoiding or punishing fraudsters is too one-sided and only pushes food fraud around as reported incidents around the world clearly demonstrate. The SSQA Concept offers a multi-faceted approach in tackling the problem of food fraud.

Additional thoughts are provided in these posts:

1. Food Industry Fraud Prevention

By Joe Whitworth+, 14-Feb-2014
Nearly 430,000 litres of counterfeit drinks and more than 1,200 tonnes of fake or substandard food have been seized as part of an EU investigation.
Posted By Felix Amiri
Felix Amiri is the current Food Sector Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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