Economically Motivated Adulteration: Broadening the Focus to Food Fraud
By John Spink, Ph.D.
This feature updates our October/November 2013 article “Economically Motivated Adulteration: Another Dimension of the ‘Expanding Umbrella of Food Defense,’” which highlighted the global and holistic activities to prevent economically motivated adulteration (EMA), intentional adulteration and the broader concept of food fraud. While past articles focused on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) food defense activities,[1, 2] this article focuses on the impact of worldwide industry efforts. There is an increasing awareness that food fraud prevention will require a fundamentally different approach than for food safety and food defense. An evolution to a prevention-based approach has occurred in the past in fields from medicine to public health and law enforcement to crime prevention.
Our previous article started with “If not now, then when; if not us, then who?” While it may seem like not much has occurred in 9 months, agencies and industry are moving at a pretty fast pace. This article will review some of those activities and the trajectory of efforts.
There has been an increased academic focus on food fraud, food integrity, food authentication and EMA. Even if the term food fraud is mentioned only once, it is helpful that more scholarly articles include it. Some traditional food science or food integrity papers now have an explicit mention of how they help combat fraud. These publications indicate not only an increased interest in this as a research topic but also the funding of new research. Academic research is not free, so someone is applying resources for these activities.
Clear and published definitions are important to establish a starting point for future research. When a concept is defined, it can be more directly addressed. There are many examples where criminology has clearly defined a new term and both research and laws followed.
Scholarly journal articles provide an important contribution since they are peer-reviewed and refereed. To be published in a leading academic journal, the article—the methods, the logic, the references—is reviewed by experts in the discipline. Several of our food fraud-related articles have been quoted and cited by influential government or industry reports. Coauthors have come from the National Center for Food Protection and Defense, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)/Food Chemicals Codex, Queen’s University Belfast (Northern Ireland, UK), Yong In University (South Korea), the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and others. Lately, our Michigan State University (MSU) research has been focused on criminology.
As an industry, we are early in addressing food fraud and are in a great position to establish a firm foundation before—or while—laws, regulations, certifications and standards are being conceived and developed. Our MSU research has focused on prevention that combines food science and criminology. We’ve leveraged our broader research in intellectual property (IP) rights infringement and product counterfeiting research. This previous work has been tailored to meet the specific needs in food. Several of our recent articles that directly support the food fraud prevention development include “Defining the Types of Counterfeiters, Counterfeiting, and Offender Organizations” (Crime Science Journal), “Development of a Product-Counterfeiting Incident Clustering Tool” (Crime Science Journal) and “Examining the Challenges to the Classification of Product Counterfeiting as a White-Collar Crime.”
Criminology and crime science are critical core components, but they only effectively apply if they begin within a food integrity frame. The impact of prevention defines the value of the enforcement and prosecution countermeasures. There is a concern in IP infringement prevention—that is a caution to the food industry—to “not give it to enforcement too soon.” Prevention is not only about investigations and arresting bad guys. As food scientists, analytical chemists and material scientists, we first go to our strength of authenticity testing. Naturally, corporate security or law enforcement would go first to their strengths of catching and incarcerating the bad guys. There are so many complexities unique to food and the food supply chain that “food” people should be leading the countermeasures.
Quality management and enterprise risk management (ERM) are other critical pieces of the puzzle. We can again learn lessons from IP infringement and establish an early focus on how resources are allocated. “The buck stops here” should be the focus. There is always a financial aspect to the decision, whether it is the chief financial officer writing a check for a new countermeasure or Congress providing the strategic direction and funding for FDA. ERM is a requirement for the financial and insurance industries. The principle of developing a system to review all risks across the entire entity just makes sense. There are some dispersed risks that, when taken by each incident, are inconsequential; when taken across the organization, they could be catastrophic. For example, the risk of company-owned cars. Each plant may have one car for the facility manager. A corporation many have over 100 plants. The enterprise risk is 100 times bigger than it seems. Managing the risk of 100 cars is logical.
Another business concept is a quality management system such as Six Sigma. While Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is common knowledge, its roots are in prevention of nonconformance. The prevention concepts are well known to industry though more broadly referred to as “root cause analysis.” Prevention is not just catching nonconformance at the end of a production line. Prevention is identifying the root causes and managing the process at those points farther up the supply chain. This is precisely why a preventive approach makes sense. That said, HACCP is specifically defined to address food safety incidents that can be controlled by the manufacturing facility. Mitigating horse meat would—and rightly so—explicitly not be in HACCP. Speciation and food authentication would be a prerequisite program. A broader quality management focus—or as GFSI states, food safety management system—would explicitly include species substitution, adulteration, mislabeling, stolen goods and other types of fraud. No businessperson would argue against a quality management system.
There are several food fraud-related trends from around the world. The different activities often have evolved from different starting points. For example, UK and EU activities expanded from their food integrity laws and regulations. Industry actions have expanded from a holistic approach to public health threats and supply chain integrity.
The EU has led several key activities. In 2011, it funded a 5-year, €12 million ($16 million) grant on food fraud. This grant “brings together major stakeholders and scientific expertise from across the world to protect consumers and industry from food fraud.”
In February 2014, the EU had a “Food Fraud – The Analytical Tools” conference at the UK Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) in York, UK. I was fortunate to attend and present “Defining Food Fraud & The Chemistry of the Crime.” In June 2014, FERA hosted the 15th annual Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition/FERA conference “Emerging Food Risks,” which had a food fraud flavor. For example, Neil Marshall of Coca-Cola (global director, quality & food safety strategy, policy and programs) presented “Food Fraud and the Industry Response,” Markus Lipp of USP (senior director for food standards) presented “USP’s Food Fraud Database,” I presented “Food Fraud – A Global Perspective” and others focused on related topics, including detecting adulteration.
In January 2014, the European Commission (EC, the administrative branch of the EU that works alongside the European Parliament, which is the governing body) adopted a draft resolution “On the Food Crisis, Fraud in the Food Chain and the Control Thereof.” The EC adopted a broad definition of food fraud and stated a focus on prevention. The resolution stated “[Parliament] notes that EU law does not currently provide a definition of food fraud and that Member States adopt different approaches; considers a uniform definition to be essential for developing a European approach to combating food fraud; [and] stresses the need rapidly to adopt a harmonized definition at [the] EU level.” Scholarly reports made an important contribution, with the resolution stating, “According to Spink and Moyer, ‘Food fraud is a collective term used to encompass the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain.’”
Establishing a common definition—such as to just define food fraud—is the critical first step in harmonizing efficient, coordinated countermeasures. Just because food fraud and a focus on prevention aren’t defined does not mean the member states are committing to adopt the same food fraud laws—they just will clearly define the common starting point. Defining food fraud in a law or regulation—or food crime, food IP rights infringement, EMA of food, food mislabeling, etc.—could be a catalyst for creating specific food incident reporting categories for customs or food agencies.
The UK has taken an extremely active and proactive approach to food fraud, especially after the horse meat incident. The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has had a focus on food integrity and, for many years, it has had a food fraud task force. The FSA was one of the first organizations to use the term food fraud. The agency’s momentum started after the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare. Actually, thinking back, some of the very first laws—for the world, not just the UK—were sparked at least in part by food fraud. Some of the first recorded laws addressed unauthorized fillers in bread and other contaminants in beer.
More recently, the UK government has funded several reports. The major report is the UK Elliott Review of food fraud. This interim report reviews the horse meat incident, current laws and countermeasures, and then proposes new countermeasures. Beyond recommending that food fraud/food crime be specifically defined in laws and regulations, the report called for a national food crime strategy. The Elliott report was published in December 2013, and the final report was slated for delivery in June 2014.
In 2012, GFSI sought feedback from a food fraud think tank. The members included Danone, Walmart, Royal Ahold, Eurofins, Inscatech and MSU. Through 2014, the think tank addressed questions from the GFSI Board. At the annual conference last February, GFSI announced its intent to address food fraud within the GFSI Food Safety Management System framework. The activities have shifted to the GFSI Technical Working Groups before being included in the GFSI Guidance Document. (The Guidance Document provides expectations for food safety standards.) The GFSI food fraud prevention principles include the broad focus on all fraud, prevention and a food fraud “vulnerability” assessment separate from food safety and food defense. The GFSI food fraud presentations included the concept of “VACCP” (vulnerability assessment) alongside TACCP (threat analysis for food defense) and the traditional HACCP. GFSI is working through these concepts in the Technical Working Group. Editor’s note: GFSI published its position paper on July 13, 2014.
Before reviewing the food fraud components in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), it is important to review other U.S. government reports. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Congressional Research Service (CRS) have addressed food or related product fraud topics. Both the GAO and CRS have addressed the related product fraud concept when they focus on IP rights and product counterfeiting. More recently, they have directly addressed food fraud and EMA. The common concepts are product fraud and positioning this as a white-collar crime.
In February 2009, the GAO published a report on seafood fraud. This was followed by similar CRS reports in 2010 and 2013. Before that, there were other reports such as the GAO report on fruit juice adulteration in 1996. (Note: This earlier GAO report used the term “economic adulteration.”) Also, as is common for white-collar crimes, the report didn’t emphasize the potential public health threat. Regarding the fruit juice adulteration incidents, the report stated “they pose little threat to the public’s health and safety.”
In October 2011, the GAO published Better Coordination Could Enhance Efforts to Address Economically Motivated Adulteration and Protect the Public Health. The key recommendations were to create a formal definition of EMA, create guidance and coordinate activities between FDA centers. It’s worth noting that FDA did respond directly to these recommendations, including the creation of the Workgroup on Economically Motivated Adulteration (WEMA). FDA did confirm it was using the EMA definition from the Federal Register notice of the Public Meeting on Economically Motivated Adulteration.
In January 2014, the CRS published Food Fraud and Economically Motivated Adulteration. CRS noted that Congress has “not addressed food fraud in a comprehensive manner,” and that “no single federal agency or U.S. law directly addresses food fraud.” This report noted many of the global activities such as the UK Elliott Review and the EC referendum on food fraud. To note, FDA has solicited comments on EMA in the past and current draft rulemaking. FDA has stated that after the comments are received, it will formulate its plan on how and where EMA will be addressed.
These U.S. government reports are important to help understand broader agency pressures. These other pressures have an impact on how FSMA will be implemented.
When the previous article was published in October 2013, the preventive controls aspect of FSMA’s request-for-comments period was just closing. Although it was clearly stated that they would be addressed in future rulemaking, there was a specific request for comments beyond just “intentional adulteration” (a term in FSMA) and “economically motivated adulteration” (a term that was not in FSMA). In what was lightning fast for the regulatory process, in December 2013, FDA released its “Proposed Rule on Focused Mitigation Strategies to Protect Food Against Intentional Adulteration.” This included feedback for those comments. The comment period was set to close at March 31 but was extended to June 30. The proposed rule focused on the food defense—intentional adulteration with the intent to harm and the result of catastrophic harm—aspects of FDA activities and asked additional and more detailed questions on EMA.
There is a tremendous amount of activity in and around food fraud prevention. It’s fortunate that the global activities are coordinated and becoming harmonized. Formalizing the food fraud concept and the focus on prevention—for industry practice and regulations—will facilitate global collaboration that will disrupt the chemistry of the crime. The trend is toward holistic food fraud prevention. Regardless of the details of how to meet the currently undefined regulatory compliance, food fraud prevention just makes business sense. Join the discussion and help shape our future.
John Spink, Ph.D., is the director of the Food Fraud Initiative and an assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. He supports global initiatives related to food fraud prevention (www.FoodFraud.msu.edu).
1. Spink, J. 2013. Economically motivated adulteration: Another dimension of the “expanding umbrella of food defense.” Food Safety Magazine 19(5):46–53.
2. Bashura, J.P. 2013. The expanding umbrella of food defense. Food Safety Magazine 19(4):70–77.
4. Spink, J., D.C. Moyer, H. Park and J. Heinonen. 2013. Defining the types of counterfeiters, counterfeiting, and offender organizations. Crime Sci J 2:8.
5. Spink, J., D.C. Moyer, H. Park and J. Heinonen. 2014. Development of a product counterfeiting incident clustering tool. Crime Sci J 3(3):1–8.
6. Heinonen, J., J. Spink and J.M. Wilson. 2014. When crime defies classification: The case of product counterfeiting as white-collar crime. Security Journal. doi: 10.1057/sj.2014.18.
11. Spink, J. and D.C. Moyer. 2011. Defining the public health threat of food fraud. J Food Sci 75(9):57–63.
13. Available at www.theconsumergoodsforum.com.
Categories: Management: Food Defense; Regulatory: FDA, FSMA