Medical Minute 7-12: Food Fraud

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

From the grocery store to the farmers market to your refrigerator - what you're buying and what you're eating may not be what it seems.

Doug Karas with the FDA says there are two ways food fraud works-one, by cheating the weight of a product, two, by substituting a lower quality item.The most well known counterfeit products -- olive oil, honey and seafood.

"You don't know what's in there. You don't know what you're eating."

David Shaw is a special agent for ICE- the Immigrations Customs Enforcement. He works on the front line-tracking down the food before it gets to you. This cheese was stopped at a warehouse in Miami.

"This cheese has staph and E. Coli…it had everything you could think of," said David Shaw, Assistant Special Agent with Immigrations Customs Enforcement.

The FDA inspects only one percent of the 10 million products shipped into the country annually-Agent Shaw says that's why food fraud is an easy and lucrative way for organized crime to make money.

"There are a near infinite number of fraudsters, and there are a near infinite number of types of fraud," said John Spink, Ph.D., Anti-counterfeiting & Product Protection Program at Michigan State University.

Doctor John Spink helped to create the anti-counterfeiting and product protection program at Michigan State University. It's the first in the country to help develop anti-counterfeiting strategies. Whether it's mislabeling to make more money or selling tainted products-food fraud impacts us all, and it's going to take all of us to beat it

"I've never kicked down a door of a counterfeiter or handcuffed anybody. But what I do is work with the people who do. And those people are out there risking their lives every day, guns in their faces, trying to go track down these bad guys.'

And the bad food that could not only cost you more, but risk your life.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,


BACKGROUND: Following Germany's e-coli breakout, people around the world are wondering how safe their food really is. In the United States, special agents are working hard to keep families safe from counterfeit foods. This underground industry brings in about 50 billion dollars a year making what you're buying at the grocery store not necessarily what it seems.
FOOD FRAUD: Food fraud is the intentional adulteration of food by substituting cheaper ingredients for economic gain. Doug Karas with the FDA says there are three ways food fraud works: by cheating the weight of the object, by substituting a lower quality item, and by selling damaged or tainted goods that could harm your health.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR: The most frequent counterfeit products are olive oil, honey, and seafood. In 2008, Chinese officials reported that milk adulterated with melamine—a chemical that makes the milk appear to have higher protein content—caused 900 infants to be hospitalized for kidney problems. According to the University of North Carolina, 77 percent of fish labeled as red snapper was actually tilapia. The national seafood inspection laboratory determined that 34 percent of all species sold in the U.S wasn't really the species we thought we were buying. Imported fish is also at risk for fraud because only two percent of it is inspected by the FDA.
GETTING INTO THE U.S: In the U.S, 13 percent of food supply passes through 300 ports of entry. However, only one percent of these products are annually inspected by the FDA. Reasons like this are why food fraud is an easy and lucrative way for organized crime to make money and penalties for this are not there yet.
WHAT'S IN YOUR PANTRY: In operation rotten tomato, one of California's oldest growers, SK Foods, was investigated for selling moldy, expired tomato derivatives to Kraft and Heinz, but sold it in the form of paste, raising costs. In another case, expensive cheese labeled as sheep's milk was actually the product of cow's milk and honey was diluted with corn syrup. All these items were falsely marketed as being 100 percent pure and sold at a premium price.
TAKING ACTION: Action against food frauds is finally being taken. The Food Safety Modernization Act is potentially the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's food safety system in nearly 75 years by directing 1.4 billion dollars to inspect foreign food services. Another way to protect ourselves is with DNA testing which enables the discovery of the origins of meat and produce.

 For More Information, Contact:

John Spink, PhD

Doug Karas
1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)

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