A poor quality aged red wine passed off as vintage Bordeaux, shark meat sold as swordfish or Italian extra virgin olive oil that has (maybe) only seen the Belpaese while in transit and is probably mixed with soybean oil. And that’s not all: New Zealand kiwis, pachino tomatoes, not to mention caviar… then we have almond flour dangerously fobbed off as American peanut flour, horse meat turned into beef and long grain rice of any type whatsoever being presented as Basmati. The fraudulent sale and counterfeiting of food and beverages is constantly rising, evolving and spreading and food fraud is becoming an important organized crime activity.
Chinese Wine, half of the bottles are false
The phenomenon primarily involves luxury products, but not only. A typical example is that of wine in China, a nation that has few equals when it comes to producing counterfeited products and imitations (closely followed in the world fraud charts by, would you believe it, Germany). With an increasingly wealthy middle class taking an ever growing interest in fine food and drink, the Asian giant was totally alien to the wine market until very recently but today it is the fifth biggest wine consumer in the world. Which is paramount to saying that it is the ideal place in which to make illegal profits selling products that are not what they are supposed to be. As always, those who come out worst are the consumers and reputable brands.
The phenomenon is huge – various researches estimate that over 50% of the bottles on sale in this enormous Asian country are false. This year, the Chinese government has launched a project called Protected Eco-Origin Product (PEOP) in collaboration with producers to authenticate labels using visible and invisible codes, including a QR code that consumers can check with their Smartphones. A private initiative has gone even further, by presenting the “Smart wine bottle” in Shanghai with a particularly intelligent label based on “Thin film Open Sense” technology which, thanks to extremely fine sensors, is not only able to verify whether the bottle has already been opened but also to trace and authenticate the product, even when the factory seal is no longer intact.
Fake seafood, fishing ground for counterfeiters
Seafood represents another miraculous fishing ground for counterfeiters: the world population has a growing appetite for fish and the standardization of menus and tastes does not spare the industry. Not only does this cause a further impoverishment of the seas with many species in danger of extinction, but also a soaring increase in fraudulent activities. According to extensive on-going studies carried out by the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale (Veterinary epidemiology centre) of Piedmont, Liguria and the Aosta Valley in Italy, there is a marked increase in fraudulent behaviour regarding marine species: pangasius is turned into sole, Chinese icefish sold as smelt and commonplace oysters presented as “luxury” varieties (in fact, last year, a well-known French producer started to “brand” its oysters).
Regretfully, those who mistrust labels are generally justified because the intentionally misleading presentation of products is booming according to recent declarations by NSF International, the long-established public health and safety organization. Deceptive labelling and poor quality products passed off as superior ones are the two main forms of food fraud; along with adulteration and actual counterfeiting. A difficult phenomenon to address on a global level, with different legislation in force from one country to another: for this reason, more and more experts invoke the creation of a designated international body – at present, Interpol has no mandate to act in this ambit. In the meantime, fraud is lurking right there in your plate.