Counterfeit foods: becoming a bolder threat?

Articles
January 30, 2009

Counterfeit foods: becoming a bolder threat?

As if the U.S. food supply hasn’t shown enough health risks lately, new research suggests we may be darkening our nation’s own food integrity image. Chinese imports are an obvious threat, but so is a U.S. peanut processor that ships products despite finding salmonella. Another common and possibly criminal danger is the distribution of counterfeit food. Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the Food and Drug Administration have aggressively punished domestic companies that practice ‘economic adulteration’ to pad their profits, according to a USA Today report. The paper described the practice as “adding a little to their bottom line by padding, thinning or substituting something cheap for something expensive.”

As if the U.S. food supply hasn’t shown enough health risks lately, new research suggests we may be darkening our nation’s own food integrity image.  Chinese imports are an obvious threat, but so is a U.S. peanut processor that ships products despite finding salmonella.

Another common and possibly criminal danger is the distribution of counterfeit food. Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the Food and Drug Administration have aggressively punished domestic companies that practice ‘economic adulteration’ to pad their profits, according to a USA Today report.  The paper described the practice as “adding a little to their bottom line by padding, thinning or substituting something cheap for something expensive.”

If the feds aren’t enforcing against food masquerades, consumers need to be watchful, especially in:
• Seafood.   In 2004, scientists at the University of North Carolina found that 77% of fish labeled as red snapper was actually something else. When Consumer Reports tested 23 fillets labeled as wild-caught salmon bought nationwide in 2005-2006, only 10 were wild salmon. The rest were farmed. The telltale clue, an FDA source told USA Today: When cooked, wild salmon keeps its color, but in farmed salmon it leaks out.
• Olive oil.  Connecticut tested oils the past two years, and found “as much as 60% to 70% of olive oil sold as extra virgin in the state is lower-quality,” Dan Flynn of the Olive Center at University of California-Davis told the paper.  An FDA official said fakers can add 10% vegetable oil in extra virgin, and it will smell the same.
• Honey.  Counterfeiters hop between beet sugar, cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup to thin out honey, save money and escape FDA detection.
• Maple syrup. Fakers dilute the boiled-down sap of the sugar maple tree with water or sugar, Kristin Haas, food safety director in Vermont’s Agency for Agriculture, Food and Markets, told the paper.
• Vanilla. Counterfeiters soak vanilla pods in alcohol or milk or store them in sugar to add a vanilla scent to foods. The danger lurks in inexpensive vanilla extract from Mexico and Latin America, which contains coumarin, a toxic substance, FDA said.

Add to these the well-documented problem of counterfeit cigarettes from China,
that cost the tobacco industry billions of dollars annually and are usually only recognized by their fake tax stamps.

SupermarketGuru.com recognizes how hard it is for consumers to spot fakes that make it to store shelves, or tougher yet, dimly lit restaurant tables. We also understand the graver food-safety issues facing the USDA and FDA, which could certainly use more resources to protect our food supply. Yet unchecked greed could flourish into worse incidents that pose even greater threats, so in our opinion counterfeit foods must become part of the nation’s 2009 food-safety agenda.