Food Safety

At the expense of the consumer

Food fraud is booming: Supposedly natural honey contains added sugar, vegetables from conventional cultivation are labelled as organic products, and olive oil mixed with salad oil is declared as a high-quality product. But food fakes are not only inferior and over-priced. Counterfeits can also be unhealthy for the consumer. For example, if allergen identifications are missing or products are stretched with forbidden substances.

Appropriately high attention is given to the topic among consumers. According to information from the Green Paper “Diet, Farming, Rural Spaces” by the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture (BMEL) from the year 2016, food safety is important or very important for 97 per cent of consumers. It thus is one of the main consumer protection topics in Germany.

But the challenges faced in the protection of consumer health are growing: Commodity flows are integrated into a strong global network and products containing redients from all around the world. For example, the rotten-meat scandal in Brazil at the beginning of 2017 had effects all the way to Europe and Germany.

What is certain is that criminals are taking advantage of the complexity and confusion in global supply chains. A lucrative business: The profit margins are high, the risk of detection low. The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) sees the profits in food fraud as equal to the yields in the drug trade. The cross-border trade with food is particularly affected. Falsified papers are produced at customs, obscuring supply chains as well as the origin of the products. Security authorities are alerted Europol and Interpol have secured over 31,000 tons as well as more than 3 million liters of counterfeit and inferior products in joint investigations between the years 2011 and 2016.

To protect consumers from food fraud, all parties involved in the product must be involved – from the farmer and the manufacturer to the logistics providers and the distributor. Supervisory authorities as well as the scientific community and politics also must work closely together to ensure the high standard of food safety in Germany. All players follow the seven basic principles of food safety in their work.

Traceability of food is also part of this. According to this principle all players in the grocery chain in the European Union are obligated to prove where their food and raw materials originate. The food is traced through all production, processing, and sales stages. In times of strong global networks of commodity flows, this proof of identity and origin is an important guarantor for food safety.

In order to be one step ahead of the food forgers and to protect consumers efficiently, innovations are necessary. It is therefore the aim of the IISW to discuss the right framework conditions for innovative technologies in the backtracking of food together with business, politics, and research.

2: German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, Paper 311 – International Food Safety Policy. January 2016. Understanding Food Safety. Facts and Background.