Food Fraud: Eliminating the Risk to Consumers and Industry

Mr Ho Wee Fun, Senior Manager, Food Safety & Quality, NTUC Fairprice, speaks with Food Industry Asia (FIA) about driving food safety through consistency in standards, quality control and consumer education.

Food fraud is a complex and long-standing issue, and a holistic strategy and framework is required to mitigate related risks, said leaders from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), NTUC FairPrice and GS1 at a recent Food Industry Asia (FIA) Lunch Series event.

The final FIA Lunch Series session for 2016 was organised in partnership with PwC Singapore, and took place in Singapore on 7 December. Ms Julia Leong, Partner, Food Supply & Integrity Services Lead Summary, PwC Singapore, opened the discussion with an overview of food fraud in Asia. She discussed the key food scandals in Asia and their impact on business and consumers, as well as the milestones that local food companies and regulators have achieved since then.

Ms Leong gave examples of common food items, found in the household and supermarkets, most susceptible to food fraud. These include milk, extra virgin olive oil, honey, spices and seafood. Food fraud consists of the dilution, substitution and mislabelling of these products.

Ms Julia Leong, Partner, Food Supply & Integrity Services Lead Summary, PwC Singapore, gives an overview of food fraud in Asia.

Due to globalisation and the complexity of supply chains, back-dated regulations, evolving consumer demands and under-investment in supply chain risk management, food fraud challenges are becoming more sophisticated, which makes them tougher to tackle, said Ms Leong.

In Asia, highly fragmented production, processing, distribution and retail; limited technical expertise of small operators; and highly competitive markets and thin margins further add to these challenges.

To prevent and eliminate food fraud, Ms Leong said, every stakeholder needs to play a part. It is a complex issue, across operations and through relationships with suppliers across the supply chain – therefore, a holistic mitigation strategy and framework is required. This includes proper and effective vulnerability assessment, as well as a robust monitoring system.
Food fraud is an economically motivated crime, said Ms Tan Hwee Ching, Senior Manager, PwC Singapore. It is the outcome of such motivations, opportunities and controls. Ms Tan introduced the Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment Tool, launched by PwC in conjunction with SSAFE, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and food companies around the world, which aims help businesses assess their food fraud vulnerabilities and take suitable action to minimise fraud.

Mr Liew Wai Leong, Chief Executive Officer, GS1 Singapore shares insight on the costs of recalls and benefits of food traceability systems and their implementations.

Mr Liew Wai Leong, Chief Executive Officer, GS1 Singapore, spoke on the importance of food standards and traceability systems in ensuring food safety. A robust traceability system, he said, helps to build and protect consumer trust and confidence – a fragile thing. Additionally, a sturdy system helps brands to differentiate their products from those of their competitors, as well as make prompt and accurate decisions throughout the supply chain.

Food fraud has been around for a long time and will continue to take place, as long as there are incentives and opportunities for fraudsters, said Mr Liew. The solution has to be produced through collaboration, technology and proper standards.

A panel comprising Ms Leong, Mr Ho, Mr Liew and Mr Richard Skinner, Strategy Leader, PwC Singapore, discusses the fight against food fraud and the role industry can play in these efforts.

The session ended with a panel, in which panellists summarised key points raised, and discussed whether food companies in Asia are doing enough to fight food fraud, as well as what more can be done, moving forward, to ensure food safety.

Dr Ralph Graichen, Director, Food & Nutrition, Biomedical Research Council (BRMC), A*STAR, poses a question to the panel.