Written by: John Spink
Primary Source: Food Fraud Initiative
This is an advance copy of my January 19 and January 22 presentations at the Shenzhen International Innovation Auditorium Conference (hosted by the Shenzhen Municipal Government) and to the Chinese National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA, Beijing). I will be using the same presentation for both groups. For the CFSA I will review our previous FSMA public comments and reviews. See the advance copy of the presentation HERE.
China as a country – and the Chinese Food Government Agencies – has many challenges that are similar to those of other countries around the world. Food Fraud incidents are a challenge for all countries and all markets. Of course there are variations and unique challenges, but the fundamental ‘fraud opportunity’ is universal. From a regulatory standpoint, all government agencies are directed by their legislative and executive branches to respond to changing priorities. We are all playing catch-up since crime and business fraud evolve faster than countermeasures of governments, industry, or academia.
Ten months ago the European Commission passed a resolution adopting a definition of Food Fraud and a focus on prevention (See previous blog post HERE). The EC has a holistic and all-encompassing definition, including:
- Food Fraud is:
adulteration (Economically Motivated Adulteration or EMA)
over-runs/ un-authorized production
illegal diversion, and
Food Fraud covers more issues than just “adulterants.” As is standard practice in trans-national crime prevention, to prevent Food Fraud the countermeasures must be holistic and all-encompassing. By “holistic” we mean utilizing countermeasures from across the entire food supply chain not, just adulterant or authenticity testing (e.g. how would you test the authenticity of genuine product that is stolen?). By “all-encompassing” they need to address all the “types of fraud” that the “types of fraudsters” perpetrate (see our previous blog post and article HERE). If the countermeasures are not holistic and all-encompassing then only part of the supply chain will be protected and Food Fraud will just evolve and continue.
Three months ago the EC held a Conference on Food Fraud that recommended the European Member States adopt this common definition and coordinate the preventative countermeasures (see a previous blog post on the conference and my presentation HERE). This prevention focus on all the actions that “bad guys” could conduct is consistent with criminology and crime science best practices such as Situational Crime Prevention.
United States FDA
One month ago the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received public comments on how and where to address “Economically Motivated Adulteration” or EMA. Since the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed in January 2011, EMA has been a discussion point. EMA was first addressed in the “Intentional Adulteration” section of FSMA and then it was clarified that FDA would address it in the “Preventative Controls” section. The public comment period closed last month and the US FDA will be publishing their first broad EMA rulemaking, probably in March or April (see previous blog posts on the December 2014 public comments HERE, a review of FSMA and EMA HERE, a review of the industry/ GFSI approach to Food Fraud including EMA HERE, our July 2014 public comments and a review of the overall US rulemaking process HERE, and a review of the original December 2013 FSMA “Intentional Adulteration” rulemaking document HERE).
Universal Food Agency Challenge: Public Health Threat or Incident?
Potential Threat: We have covered this before but the major challenge to the holistic and all-encompassing approach to Food Fraud prevention is that government food agencies have been directed – by the best science and efficient policy-making – to take a “risk based approach.” That “risk” is defined as a “public health threat.” The public health threat is defined by actual illnesses or deaths.
Current Incident: On the other hand, once there is an incident, the public health response system is required to act. A Food Fraud “vulnerability” (see our previous blog post on ‘vulnerability’ versus ‘risk’ and a “VACCP – Vulnerably Assessment and Critical Control Point” program HERE) would NOT be considered in a “risk-based approach” until there was an actual threat. A threat would be an incident that caused illnesses and deaths.
- Food Fraud usually does NOT have a public health threat, so Food Fraud prevention would usually NOT be prioritized under a public health “risk-based approach.” Horsemeat adulteration in beef did NOT have a public health threat. Melamine in Infant Formula was properly prioritized as a lower priority in a public health “risk-based approach” UNTIL there was a public health threat. This is quite a challenge for the current “risk based” priority setting since government food agencies are tasked with preventing public health threats. The legislative and administrative branches of government – and consumers – expect the government food agencies to prevent Food Fraud.
Addressing the vulnerability versus risk will be a challenge for the food industry. Fortunately, the concept of governments and industry shifting to prevention is NOT novel… it is actually the best practice for many industries… including the food industry. The Public Health field has been focused on prevention and no business would argue against the value of the “Quality Management” systems.
As we have borrowed “fraud opportunity” and “crime prevention” concepts from Criminology and Crime Science, we can borrow the language of “Quality Management” and prevention from business.
While I reside in the US, over the last few years I find myself more an “international” scholar. Food Fraud prevention requires a trans-national, multi-disciplinary, and public-private approach. My average of 28 external presentations a year for the last three years has included many international meetings and interactions with even more international colleagues. Also, a traditional “US”, “European,” or “Chinese” corporation may conduct a majority of its business sales overseas. Its business is international.
This international experience provides an interesting perspective. China – and the Chinese Government – is NOT behind on Food Fraud prevention laws and regulation. Actually, with the high level of consumer and agency awareness, China may end up being the most proactive Food Fraud prevention country in the world. The Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu is credited with “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I believe we have taken some steps. We may look back and see that we are many steps into our Food Fraud prevention journey. JWS.
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