Inside the Secret World of Global Food Spies

This is why I don't buy "wild" Chinese salmon, or "organic" Chinese tea.

Farmers pour away unsold [tainted] milk in Hebei Province in Sept. 2008.

Mitchell Weinberg founded Inscatech — a global network of food spies eight years ago.

  • Retail giants turn to bitcoin technology to combat food-fraud
  • Fraud costs global food industry up to $40 billion every year

... Inscatech and its agents scour supply chains around the world hunting for evidence of food industry fraud and malpractice.

“Statistically we’re uncovering fraud about 70 percent of the time, but in China it’s very close to 100 percent,” he said. “It’s pervasive, it’s across food groups, and it’s anything you can possibly imagine.”

... scandals in China over the past decade — from melamine-laced baby formula, to rat-meat dressed as lamb — have seen the planet’s largest food-producing and consuming nation become a hotbed of corrupted, counterfeit, and contaminated food.

Weinberg’s company is developing molecular markers and genetic fingerprints to help authenticate natural products and sort genuine foodstuffs from the fakes. Another approach companies are pursuing uses digital technology to track and record the provenance of food from farm to plate.

His firm mainly uses informants on the ground to sniff out where in the production process food-fraud is taking place, and most of his work in China is with western companies that manufacture or source product there.

“The problem is the data is only as reliable as the person providing the data,” said Weinberg, who recalls seeing everything in China from synthetic eggs to fake shrimp that still sizzle in a wok. “In most supply chains there is one or more ‘unreliable’ data provider. This means blockchain is likely useless for protecting against food-fraud unless every piece of data is scrutinized to be accurate.”

A months-long Bloomberg investigation into the global shrimp trade last year showed how unreliable documentation had fanned an illegal transhipping scheme involving Chinese aquaculture exporters.

At Interpol, Ellis, a former detective with Scotland Yard in London, was involved in “Opson,” an operation that led to the seizure of more than 10,000 tons and 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of hazardous fake-food and drinks across more than 50 countries.

Without a presence to fight it, food-fraud globally “will explode,” Ellis said. “It will just continue to grow, and who knows where it will lead.” [emphasis mine]

For examples of fake food see 14 Foods You Eat Every Day That Aren't What You Think They Are

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Replies to This Discussion

Much more discussion here at AN, at "The olive oil police!" and "Vast, pervasive food scams". Thanks, Ruth, for pointing out that "it's not about personal honesty so much as perverse incentives. Capitalism rewards externalizing risks for short term profit. It appears that Communism is even worse, based on the integrity of Chinese food exports. Human beings don't act in a vacuum."

What's new in the Bloomberg article is discussion on combating this global fraud.

As others have commented in relation to other issues, what might help is instituting a corporate death penalty. (If corporations are "people"... and even if not.) If a corporation's willfulness or negligence resulted in someone dying, or in people being seriously hurt, its charter should be revoked and its assets sold; it should not be allowed to continue doing business.

GC, I like the sound of that Corporate Death Penalty.  

I've often thought that those people in a company that should know what's going-on in regards to seriously hurting people should be fined a considerable amount, jailed, and never allowed in positions where they could do it again.

Spud, I feel exactly the same way.  Humans at different levels of corporate governance are making the ultimate decisions on how their products are created, manufactured, and sold.  They must be held responsible.  And the responsibility must be shared between the decision makers and the corporation.  One should not be able to use the other as a scapegoat.


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