Presidential Task Force on Seafood Fraud – MSU FFI Public Comments for the “Request for Comments”

Written by: John Spink

Primary Source: Food Fraud Initiative

seafood fraudWe seek opportunities to comment – especially early in the development stages – on government and agency activities. The main way the US government communicates its activities is through Federal Register notices. There was a recent notice of public meetings and a request for comments on Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud (Document Citation RIN 0648-XD401, Docket No. NOAA-NMFS-0214-0090, Page: 44404-44405). Our public comments are already posted here . We are providing preliminary comments to contribute to the early discussions and we also plan on submitting final comments after all their meetings – contact us if you have any questions, comments or suggestions (

The Task Force was announced in this Presidential directive :

A few key points of that directive include [my emphasis added]:

  • “‘Section 1.  Policy.  (a)  It shall be the policy of the United States for all executive departments and agencies to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud by strengthening coordination and implementation of relevant existing authorities and, where appropriate, by improving the transparency and traceability of the seafood supply chain.”
  • “‘Section 1. (b)  It shall also be the policy of the United States to promote legally and sustainably caught and accurately labeled seafood and to take appropriate actions within existing authorities and budgets to assist foreign nations in building capacity to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud. “

The Federal Register notice is here:!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0090

There are three public meetings that started on August 13 and the final comments are due September 2. We decided to submit these preliminary comments before the meetings even start so that we could clarify some definitions, concepts, countermeasures, and strategies.   Also, this was a great opportunity to present activities of many other groups working on related concepts – hopefully this Seafood Fraud task force can leverage the lessons from others and collaborate on countermeasures.

This is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to comment on a related topic and to participate in the policy-making. There is an important military-related phrase to “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” This is critical to implementing a plan. In public policy-making there is a valuable role in helping design that plan. Consider contributing your comments either directly or through your industry associations. JWS.


Text from our Preliminary Comments Submission (pdf)

Our Comments – Summary:

We recommend a focus on prevention, not just detection or deterrence – suppress not solve. Prevention is important since combating product fraud is more like managing diabetes than fixing a broken leg. For a Seafood Fraud Prevention plan to be holistic and all-encompassing a “comprehensive framework” must be global and consider all types of fraud. Of course this Task Force will explicitly focus on Seafood Fraud aspects of Food Fraud.

  • Focus on Prevention rather than just Detection: The most efficient and effective focus is on prevention rather than just detection (finding the fraudulent product) or even deterrence (thwarting a specific perpetrator attacking in a specific way). There are applicable prevention strategies based on Criminology and crime prevention theory. There is an established academic foundation in Food Fraud that utilizes Situational Crime Prevention to understand the fraud opportunity. The process to analyze the risk includes identifying the incidents, assess why there was a fraud opportunity, conduct cluster analysis to define common characteristics, consider supply chain-wide countermeasures, and continue market monitoring for incidents. Constant monitoring is important since we should expect the bad guys to evolve their methods to continue conducting fraud. This is not easy as there are a near infinite number of potential fraudsters and types of fraud. We propose the “task force approach” adopt the process steps above in order to formalize a review of the fraud opportunity and understand how a broad range of countermeasures interact. This shifts the focus to prevention.
  • Focus on Over-Arching Supply Chain Integrity: As noted in our response (see attached) to the Food Safety Modernization Act request for comments on the Intentional Adulteration section – specifically on EMA, there is efficiency in focusing on broader supply chain integrity issues. This is also applicable to Seafood Fraud prevention. When the supply chain is tightened there is a reduced fraud opportunity. Note: Similar Seafood Fraud specific Food Integrity concepts were addressed at the UK FERA Symposium of Food Integrity in February 2014 (this coincided with a meeting of the UK Food Integrity Project).
  • Review Other Related Food Fraud Prevention Activities: The goals of this Task Force are similar to – if not conceptually identical to –ongoing global agency and industry activities in Food Fraud prevention. Specific actions include: the Global Food Safety Initiative’s (GFSI) Food Fraud Position Paper; the European Commission’s adopted referendum creating a definition of Food Fraud (and defining a focus on prevention); the United Kingdom’s Elliott Review of Food Fraud (scheduled publication September 4). In the US, there are parallels to review the FDA drug supply chain integrity activity for perspective on broad concepts that have very focused results. Some non-traditional food or Seafood Fraud enforcement actions could be to apply other laws such as treasury (tax avoidance), customs (smuggling), or food (a food product with our pedigree or traceability could be determined to be “unfit for commerce” under the “adulterated foods” section of the Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act). The goal is to reduce the fraud opportunity not just to trace product.
  • Focus on Broad Countermeasures – Transparency vs. Traceability: Increasing supply chain integrity and transparency is achieved by applying an integrated set of countermeasures including: traceability, authenticity testing, supply chain integrity systems, supplier management, laws and regulation, and investigation and prosecution. The importance of law enforcement and judicial system priority-setting cannot be underestimated. Seafood Fraud or Food Fraud often would be a low priority on a list dominated by drugs, guns, and violence. Also, the vast majority of Food Fraud – and Seafood Fraud – incidents do not have an obvious public health threat, so they often would be a low priority on public health threat priority lists. Nevertheless, there is always a public health vulnerability since there is low confidence in how suspect product was handled.

Our Next Steps 

  • Develop Our Final Comments: After the public meetings we will submit our final comments.
  • Further Activity: We would be interested in supporting the Task Force in any way deemed valuable.


There are many food laws – or other laws we can use such as treasury, importation, or transportation – already enacted that can creatively be applied to prosecute food fraudsters and fundamentally shift to prevention. The Food Safety Modernization Act is the most significant food law since the Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act of 1938. The mandated shift to prevention will be complex.

The shift to prevention will not be easy for the food industry either. But they can learn from previous examples. The healthcare field shifted to prevention through its focus on public health. The law enforcement field now balances prosecution with crime prevention. More directly applicable to Food Fraud, the food industry can learn from the last 20 years of anti-counterfeiting efforts in the pharmaceutical industry.



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John Spink
Dr. Spink has been focused on product fraud since the Michigan State University’s Food Safety Program and the School of Packaging began research on the topic in 2006. This work expanded to the behavioral sciences and criminology and led to the establishment of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Initiative in 2008. In 2009 the work shifted to the School of Criminal Justice where the Initiative evolved into a Program.