3Qs with Professor Alan Reilly (University College Dublin) and Liam Gimon (Interpol) on mitigating and managing food fraud risks in Asia

Following several high-profile incidences of food fraud in recent years, criminal activities continue to pervade the food supply chain across the world. With public health at stake, along with reputational and financial risks for the industry, Food Industry Asia (FIA) recently launched a report on food fraud which looks at its impact on the industry, regulators and consumers. The report also carries recommendations on how food businesses can exercise due diligence to mitigate food fraud.

Launch of the report “Food Fraud – Understanding the Impact of Food Fraud in Asia” at the FIA lunch series on 22 May 2018

Understanding the Impact of Food Fraud in Asia” was launched at an FIA Lunch Series with the report's lead author, Professor Alan Reilly. Professor Jøergen Schlundt (NTU) moderated a panel discussion with Liam Gimon (Interpol), Patrik Jonasson (GS1) and Prof Reilly (UCD), panellist discussed the incidence and implications of food fraud for food businesses in Asia and steps that can be taken by food businesses to identify, manage, and mitigate fraudulent practices in food trade systems.

FIA spoke to Professor Reilly, former CEO of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and panellist Liam Gimon, Criminal Intelligence Officer at Interpol afterwards to delve deeper into the issue and why combating food fraud requires a collaborative approach across all players in the supply chain.

Why do food businesses need to look beyond traditional food safety management systems to mitigate food fraud in the supply chain?

AR: Food fraud presents major challenges for the food industry in Asia, including protecting their brands and reputations while minimising risks for consumers. Combatting food fraud requires different tactics to those applied by the food industry in reducing risks associated with microbiological, chemical and physical hazards. Current food safety management systems based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles are not specifically designed for the identification and prevention of food fraud.

Tackling food fraud is a complex task, that requires the industry to develop and implement effective, science-based traceability systems and improved methods for food authenticity testing. The industry also needs to develop and implement systems for Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessments (FFVA), which will help in identifying potential sources of fraud within their supply chains and prioritising control measures. This will minimise the risk of receiving fraudulent or adulterated raw materials or ingredients.

E-commerce is often used as a platform for trading fraudulent products. How can governments and the industry tackle this?

AR: As food trade via e-commerce rapidly expands across Asia, opportunities for marketing counterfeit and fraudulent foods also increase. Competent authorities in Asian countries should strengthen their official food controls regulating internet food sales. Regulatory requirements need to be introduced so that all businesses involved in internet food trade must be registered or authorised by the competent authority.

Regulations should also include a mandatory requirement for businesses to provide consumers with detailed information on the authenticity of the product before the purchase is concluded. This information allows consumers to make an informed choice before they complete the online transaction.

There is also a need for greater cooperation among governments in Asian countries to tackle counterfeit or fraudulent food trade. This type of activity is spread across numerous countries, and is organised by cross-border criminal networks.

Liam Gimon (Interpol), Nicola Bonnefoy (FIA), Prof Reilly (UDC) and Prof Jøergen Schlundt (NTU) with the report

Can new technologies, such as blockchain, play a role in mitigating food fraud?

AR: To combat food fraud successfully, food companies need to establish mitigation measures based on risk assessment and vulnerability analysis. The simplest and most straightforward approach is for food companies to adopt a two-stage approach: firstly, to undertake FFVA and identify potential sources of food fraud within their supply chains; and secondly, to prioritise control measures and minimise the chances of receiving fraudulent or adulterated ingredients or raw materials, and to address vulnerabilities within their facilities.

To counter food fraud effectively, the industry in Asia must expand their food safety management systems to include the process of FFVA. In addition, new and advanced technologies for the detection of food fraud need to be developed to stay ahead of criminal networks. More sophisticated systems for improving the traceability products from “farm to fork” are required. Managing and retrieving large volumes of data on suppliers, ingredients, processes, and distribution networks requires new IT solutions, such as the use of blockchain. Technologies like blockchain have the potential to assist food businesses to improve traceability and establish fully integrated IT tracking systems.

Why is Interpol, the largest international police organisation, so concerned about food fraud in Asia?

LG: Serious incidents involving hazardous food products have highlighted the fact that this sector is being targeted by criminals who trade in low quality, and potentially dangerous, products. It casts doubt on the reliability of the food supply chain, affects the reputation of the food and beverage industry, and negatively impacts consumer confidence. Meat, honey, olive oil, wine, alcohol, fish, candies, cheese: any food or drink can be targeted by criminals. The list of activities linked to food crime – counterfeiting, adulteration, substitution, mislabelling, falsification of expiration dates – is long and continues to grow as criminal groups search for more ways to make a profit.

What is the economic impact of food fraud in Asia?

LG: It is very hard to put a price tag on the problem. Food fraud is, by its very nature, insidious; it is hard to verify, hard to track, and often gets lost in the chaos. Food fraud is difficult to detect as it can occur at every stage of the supply chain: crops, livestock, production, transportation, retailers, internet. One incident can trigger a huge impact on both public safety and the economy. The full economic impact of food fraud is often incalculable for the legitimate owner or manufacturer.

The impact of food fraud with regards to a company or brand could be catastrophic, and the company may never return to the dominance they once held. Outbreaks and foodborne epidemics, whether serious or lightly debilitating, can side-line thousands of workers from all walks of life. The loss of jobs could potentially cause financial hardships for the whole city, country, or region.

How can the industry collaborate with Interpol to mitigate the risk of food fraud in the supply chain?

LG: The greatest and easiest way the industry can help Interpol and law enforcement in general is through efficient communication. Let the authorities know when there is an incident or an action that the industry believes might be the result of food fraud. Pass along the information to the regulatory contacts that you work with. The industry knows their products the best and knows where and when there are gaps or inconsistencies. By receiving this key information, police and investigators can then go after the perpetrators and stem the flow of fraudulent food.

Professor Alan Reilly
Adjunct Professor
Institute of Food and Health
University College Dublin
Prof Alan Reilly is the former Chief Executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI). During his sixteen-year stint, he set up and managed the FSAI, leading it to become one of the most successful and effective food safety agencies responsible for enforcing regulations and coordinating the national food control programme. In 2013, he headed up the team at the FSAI which uncovered the European-wide horsemeat scandal.

Liam Gimon
Criminal Intelligence Officer
Liam Gimon is a Criminal Intelligence Officer with Interpol, in the Illicit Goods and Global Health Programme. He provides up-to-date specialised knowledge, training and investigative support in specific high-profile crime areas to police and investigators across the world.

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