Authorities and industry must take measures on food fraud - Consumentenbond

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Food fraud Olive oil

Governments and industry should take measures to combat food fraud, according to Consumentenbond, after the group found authenticity issues in Dutch products.

A total of 156 items from categories known to be susceptible to authenticity problems were checked and 21% showed 'deviations'. It found a lot of issues in Manuka honey, lamb and olive oil but less in oregano and cod.

The term 'deviations’ was used to refer to authenticity problems found. If other product groups had been tested it is possible fewer deviations would have been identified, said the association.

Authenticity analyses were performed from mid-2015 to mid-2016 using Next Generation DNA sequencing, real-time PCR and quantitative NMR spectroscopy among other techniques.

Lamb curry findings

A total of 10 lamb curries, 10 portions of minced lamb and 10 of shoarma or kebab from lamb were tested and 14 out of 30 were not pure lamb.

Lamb example

Keurslagerij Van Vliet (no lamb in minced lamb): “I have extensively investigated this mistake. Some of our minced beef was labelled incorrectly, stating lamb instead. We always store large amounts of minced meat, so at the time of the second visit the labels were still incorrect. We just got ourselves new cash registers with a labelling option. We can assure you, this mistake was not on purpose. Obviously, we have solved this problem.”

In six cases there was no lamb with beef or turkey found instead. In eight other portions lamb was present, but at least 40% of each sample consisted of other meat.

The work by the Dutch consumers’ association was subsidised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Nelleke Polderman, project leader for the food fraud project, said products were bought in Dutch supermarkets, online or in restaurants and testing was in labs in the Netherlands as well as other countries.

“After the horse meat scandal consumers were concerned about food fraud and is food what you think it is,” ​she told us.

“[In our food fraud project] we first looked from a consumer perspective by asking the consumer what products they trust and distrust and included products consumers have questions about. If you start to look for things you see problems.

“We only analysed products that testing was available for and accredited methods exist for.

“After the oregano fraud reports​ in the UK and Australia, we wanted to know is it happening in Netherlands as well.”

Polderman said it was not possible to say that one in five products in supermarkets have an issue but the research shows that too often a product is not what it was sold for.

However it cannot be said that all problems are cases of food fraud, she added.

“Food fraud means deliberate, the problem is we cannot prove it was deliberate and we don’t know if the company we bought the product from made the mistake. We tested specific batches, maybe now different products have a problem or there is no problem or even more problems.

“When you look into the literature you can’t be surprised [at the findings]. But with all results together, five product groups all had problems it is worrying because as a consumer you can’t be sure what you buy is what you want to eat​.”

High price products

Eleven products that have exceptional ingredients (wild meat, crab meat/surimi, exotic fruits, truffle) were also tested.

In pheasant pâté, no pheasant was found and in three wild boar pâté samples, only pork was found.

Olive oil example

Superunie (responsible for Goldsun, Markant and Oké olive oil classified as virgin olive oil) and Plus (a private-label product classified as virgin olive oil) said it and its producers in Spain and Portugal were surprised by the results.

“The olive oil has been tested for various specific characteristics. In addition, the Lisbon University has conducted sensory research. All studies confirm we are providing extra virgin olive oil.

“Also Superunie is teaming up with PwC to work on the vulnerability analyses of its suppliers. To this end we are using the “Food fraud vulnerability assessment tool” developed by SSAFE, PwC and WUR.

No truffle was found in two truffle mayonnaises and one truffle pesto but there was no conclusive evidence it was not used.

Polderman said they did not name these products as with the methods used they were not sure that not finding something was the same as it not being there.

“That’s an important finding from our project as well: some authenticity problems are very hard to identify because appropriate methods are lacking. More efforts are necessary to develop and implement authenticity methods.”

Consumentenbond said it is not known at what stage in the supply chain the adulteration occurred and whether it was done on purpose so it cannot be said a certain company has committed fraud.

Authenticity deviations occur in expensive products sold by renowned brands and stores while cheap products are not necessarily adulterated, it added.

Manuka honey results

Those providing the products under investigation were told about results of the analyses in January 2016 (Manuka honey) or June-July (other products).

In the eight Manuka honey samples purchased from Dutch webshops, supermarkets and health food stores one – a private label brand from Jumbo - did not contain Manuka honey.

Jumbo disputed the NMR spectroscopy test results, claiming the absence of Methylglyoxal (MGO) is not conclusive evidence and authenticity can only be determined based on pollen analysis. It confirmed the honey in question was no longer available.

Companies’ responses revealed inconsistent corporate policies. Some said they perform fraud prevention measures such as visiting suppliers unexpectedly but others seemed less involved.

Polderman said the response from companies varied as they seemed to be acting on food fraud differently.

“Some used the same methods themselves like some of the oregano suppliers, while some did not test themselves and some companies said our testing was not correct. Some companies took action and decided to withdraw their product from the supermarket shelves. Some restaurants changed the name of the dishes on their menus.”

In 2013, after horse meat the consumer group made seven recommendations to combat food fraud.

“Some things have changed in the Netherlands, for example, the Food Safety Authority can now impose higher penalties so there has been progress. However, much more can be done by supermarkets and producers, they should do more authenticity checks themselves.

“Consumers say, when we asked them, they want better and more frequent checks and stricter penalties.”

Consumer survey

Consumentenbond asked over a 1,000 consumers about food fraud in March this year.

Two thirds were worried about it. Consumers also indicate that better and more frequent checks with stricter legislation could help tackle the problem.

Consumers believed the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) and industry have a key role in combatting food fraud in the country. They believe ‘more efficient controls’, ‘more frequent inspections’ and ‘higher penalties’ should help.

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