dispatches from NSF International EMEA conference

Food fraud, big data and horizon scanning at NSF conference

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Attendees at the NSF International EMEA conference
Attendees at the NSF International EMEA conference

Related tags: Nsf international, Food standards agency

The global scale of counterfeit food, the role of ‘big data’ in food safety and horizon scanning to predict and react to supply chain risks were some areas discussed at an industry event.

The NSF International EMEA conference gathered experts at law firm DWF in London.

Francoise Dorcier, criminal intelligence officer at Interpol, said organized crime was involved in this type of trafficking due to the fact they could make money with low risks and the sanctions were not always deterrent enough.

She said food fraud was global and a health and safety issue citing the methanol poisoning incident from alcohol in Czech Republic in 2012.

Operation Opson findings

Interpol runs Operation Opson with Europol to seize counterfeit/substandard food /beverages and dismantle organized crime groups involved in trafficking.

NSF International EMEA conference

Starting in 2011 with 10 countries, the fourth edition included 47 member countries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

She gave several examples of the agency’s work at the conference in London, UK, last week.

Cases ranged from the discovery of an illegal slaughterhouse in Colombia and seizure of 400kg meat unfit for human consumption to Togo and counterfeit stock cubes being found.

In Spain, there were seizures of 500kg of caviar from China and relabelled as Iranian which was distributed in legitimate retail stores, in Bolivia officials found a factory producing alcohol that was a counterfeit of local brands and in Uganda there was illegal production of alcohol by collecting empty bottles, filling them with alcohol produced in poor sanitary conditions and selling it as genuine to retailers.

Dorcier said the only way to achieve success and stop these events is by sharing information between all agencies.

She added industry should be a part of capacity building activities and must share intelligence during investigations.

Big data = big opportunity?

Guy Poppy, chief scientific adviser to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), said the food system is increasingly complex – giving an example that a Kitkat can contain 18 ingredients soured from 12 countries.

View from DWF London office - the event venue

He told attendees there was no shortage of data but the question was how to use it and questioned if it all needs to be collected.

Data only becomes valuable when you turn it into information; information into knowledge; knowledge into wisdom and wisdom allows decisions and actions, said Poppy.

He called for pre-competitive open data sharing as everyone has their own data and their own way of turning that into decision making. 

FSA is working with companies including Nestlé and Mars and retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Agrimetrics - a Big Data Centre for the food system in Harpenden, Digital Catapult, which is tasked with generating growth in data sharing and researchers at Leeds, Sheffield and York universities.

Jude Mason, director, consulting and technical services at NSF International, said horizon scanning and predictive analytics can generate data to help businesses understand and prioritise risks and work out ways to protect against them.

She told attendees that one size fits all ‘does not work’ as the work requires relevant sector and up to date information, long term trends that may influences business strategies and emerging events.

Mason said a firm must look at the vulnerability of raw materials and through the supply chain thinking like a criminal to understand how to mitigate risks.

Fraser McKevitt, head of Retail and Consumer Insight at Kantar Worldpanel, Simon Davis, Agriculture and Sustainability Development Manager, NSF International, Dominic Watkins, partner at DWF law firm and Aris Vrettos, programme director, University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) Cambridge University also spoke at the event.   

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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