Eye on food fraud in Germany

Food fraud represents a high level of technology today, and criminal energy was the essence of a meeting held by the DLG (German Agricultural Society) in Frankfurt, where experts talked about the complex causes and possible measures.

Profiteering, easy-to-copy products, readily available know-how and the difficulty of analytical proof are issues that favour food fraud. In addition, there are no threatening penalties, agreed the speakers at the forum.

Today, food is especially falsified, when it comes to large product volumes (for example, wholesale). Clumsy fraud is decreasing, but fraud that requires high technology is increasing.

Since there are relatively few cases of food fraud in countries such as Germany, the risk awareness in this country is (still) correspondingly low.

The more ingredients of foods are known, the more accurate the source material can be determined and a comprehensive profile, or a fingerprint, can be created. Andreas Juadjur from the German Institute of Food Technology recommends more process control instead of product controls and a disclosure of industrial formulations, so that changes can be detected.

Juadjar gives the example of textile dyes being used in spices as one of the high technological level of counterfeit. It takes about two years for a food chemist to devise a method that binds the dyes to the matrix so that they are undetectable.

Frank Mörsberg from Agrolab finds that is time to put the university’s analytical methods into practice. However, analytics are limited in their validity and cannot prevent food fraud alone. That is, why it is also important for buyers and people doing quality management to observe ‘price tickers’. They give first indications of possible food fraud incentives, though lack of raw materials is only one of many food fraud risks.

“Food is safer in Germany today than ever before,” claims Stefan Engert, NRZ Authent, the German national reference centre for authentic food and the first of its kind in Europe.

But although the network of controls can be tightened up, it can never achieve 100% security.

In Britain there has been a lot of focus on food fraud after the horse meat scandal, and the country has created a new central unit against Food Fraud, in which also customs and police are involved. But in Germany such a unity can only be established with co-operation of the federal states and therefore will such a process take much longer for the Germans.

The victim of every scandal is not just the damaged company, but also the entire industry, as the consumer loses trust. Therefore, the committees and associations are keen to act concertedly against food fraud. Many efforts are already being made, but they are always reaching their limits.

Therefore, according to the DLG meeting conclusions, all options must be combined more closely in the future, which at the European level requires more intensive networking, structured co-operation and improved communication between food monitoring, law enforcement authorities, customs and in Germany the BVL (Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety), where the latter from 2020 is to be developed into a kind of intelligence centre for inter-agency co-operation.

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