Counterfeit Food Is A Growing Problem All Over the World: Are You and Your Children Unknowingly Eating Fake Food?

What Is Meant By Counterfeit or Fake Food?

Counterfeit or fake food (not talking about the plastic faux foods used in displays here) usually means substituting a cheaper food for what a food item is claimed or labeled to be. For example, selling salmon under the label of wild salmon when really it’s farmed, or pen-raised salmon, is one form of counterfeiting food. Or mislabeling tilapia, which is a cheap fish, as red snapper, a more expensive fish.

Another way food is counterfeited or faked is when cheaper ingredients are added as filler without telling the consumer. Examples are adding grain, pink slime, or sawdust to ground beef, adding soybean oil to what is labeled as extra virgin olive oil, or adding melamine to milk, as the Chinese did. (See my hub, “Pink Slime Turns Dog Food Into People Food.”)

The melamine caused the hospitalization of 900 American babies for kidney problems and 6 of those babies died. It is not just an economic issue where cheaper ingredients are added to foods, or substituted for what the label says the ingredients are so that a manufacturer or seller can make more money. Counterfeit food can be dangerous to your health and to the health of your children.

Jeneen Interlandi, reporting for The Daily Beast, and quoting World Customs Institute, writes that the counterfeit food industry is worth about 49 Billion dollars a year, and includes everything from fine food to boxed juice. It isn’t just Prada and Rolex that are being ripped off anymore.

Examples of foods that are often mislabeled or misrepresented

Mislabeling fish by substituting a cheaper fish for a more expensive fish is common with counterfeiting food.
Mislabeling fish by substituting a cheaper fish for a more expensive fish is common with counterfeiting food. | Source
Extra virgin olive oil can sometimes be as much as 90% soybean or peanut oil when counterfeited!
Extra virgin olive oil can sometimes be as much as 90% soybean or peanut oil when counterfeited! | Source
Counterfeited honey may be "thinned" by adding high fructose corn syrup.
Counterfeited honey may be "thinned" by adding high fructose corn syrup. | Source
Fruits and vegetables promoted as organic may not actually be organic, they may have come from countries where pesticides banned in the U.S. are allowed.
Fruits and vegetables promoted as organic may not actually be organic, they may have come from countries where pesticides banned in the U.S. are allowed. | Source

Have You Eaten Any Fake Food Lately?

Elizabeth Weise of USA Today writes that the most commonly counterfeited foods in the United States include seafood, vanilla, maple syrup, honey, and olive oil.

In the case of seafood counterfeiting, a cheaper fish is usually substituted for a more expensive fish, but mislabeled as the more expensive fish.

Counterfeited olive oil may include up to 90% soybean oil -- or more dangerously, peanut oil. The substituted ingredients are usually not mentioned on the label, so people allergic to peanuts who unknowingly ingest the peanut oil can be in trouble very quickly.

Honey is sometimes “thinned” by using high fructose corn syrup -- or more often beet sugar, because beet sugar is more difficult to identify and requires a very complicated test to detect it.

Weise quotes the FDA: “One "too good to be true" product to watch out for is really inexpensive vanilla extract sometimes sold in Mexico and Latin America, says the FDA. It's often made with coumarin, a toxic substance that has been banned in U.S. foods since 1954. Coumarin is chemically related to warfarin, a blood thinner, and can be dangerous. It's "no bargain," the FDA says.”

Maple syrup is often “thinned” by adding water or sugar.

Restaurants may unwittingly be serving counterfeit foods and are more likely to be placing them on their menus than grocery stores are to have them on their shelves. Many restaurants prepare heat and serve meals and may have no idea what is in them.

What Is Being Done To Counter Counterfeit Food?

Interlandi writes in The Daily Beast: “MSU [Michigan State University] has launched the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program (ACAPPP). The first program of its kind, ACAPPP will employ a range of experts, from food safety and criminal justice to international business and engineering, to develop an international hub for anti-counterfeiting strategies.”

Interlandi further writes, “Part of the problem is the sheer magnitude of the potential crime scene. There are more than 300 ports of entry in the United States, through which 13 percent of America's food supply passes. The FDA only has the resources to inspect about 2 percent of that food (which isn't surprising given its dismal budget and what some say are toothless mandates). "In terms of priorities, [food fraud] often ranks at the bottom of the list," says FDA food-safety officer Martin Stutsman.”

Some states like New York, California, Connecticut, and Oregon have set their own food safety rules and requirements as to exactly what requirements a food must meet in order to be considered “real.” Connecticut was the first U.S. state to set standards for olive oil.

Fear Of Bioterrorism Has Brought More Attention To The Problem Of Food Fraud

Counterfeit, or fake food crime has been around for decades. The practice of marketing fraudulent food is getting more attention recently because attacking a group, organization, or country, by poisoning its food has become a more serious potential terrorist threat.

How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Family From Food Fraud?

FDA food safety officer Martin Stutsman is quoted in The Daily Beast as saying, “Know your fish: what it should look and taste like, when it is in season, and how much it should cost (as well as whether or not it even exists—Wild Atlantic Salmon, for example, is endangered and not commercially available). If it says "extra virgin" but it's going for $3 a gallon, it might be soybean oil dyed green with chlorophyll—cheaper, but not nearly as healthy.”

Of course one thing people can do to limit their exposure to counterfeit food is to grow their own food. If that is not possible, patronizing the local farm market may be the answer along with cooking those homegrown foods as much as possible from scratch rather than relying on convenience foods.

Even the farm market is not completely immune to the problem of counterfeit foods, so know as much as possible about the people you purchase your food from at a farm market. Ask questions and find out if they grow the produce themselves or if they purchase it from someone else.

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Comments 34 comments

Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

PegCole17, thank you for reading and commenting on this article. Agree with you entirely, and unless our food gets more regulation, not less, there are likely to be some pretty horrible incidents in our future.


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

With the volume of imported food from countries who do not adhere to strict food standards, along with the minimal inspections on our shores, we can expect to find these fake food items in our grocery stores. It is frightening and alarming. The milk incident you described is unconscionable when it affects children and babies, in particular.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

BexSnummaBymn, thank you for stopping by. For some reason Hubpages moderators placed your comment in my Spam folder. Perhaps it is because it seems a bit garbled and perhaps computer generated instead of written by a person? Just the same, glad if you gained useful information from this article.


BexSnummaBymn 3 years ago

Hi there, just changed into alert to your blog thru Google, and located that it's truly informative. I’m going to be careful for brussels. I’ll appreciate in case you proceed this in future. Lots of other folks will probably be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

Viorcissusano


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Ladydeonne, thank you for reading and commenting on this hub, and for voting it up and sharing it too! Yes, some foods are packed with things we wouldn't normally think of as food, like sawdust for example. Any food is suspect, but generally it isn't the generic brands so much as the off brands -- the ones imported from China for example.


ladydeonne profile image

ladydeonne 3 years ago from Florence, SC

This information is very valuable as it could be life saving. I am aware of Chemically Engineered Foods but never gave much thought to generic foods. Thanks for sharing. Voted up, useful and sharing.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Deborah-Diane for sharing this article! In fact mislabeling and outright deception in the ingredients of some foods is getting worse, not better.


Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

I'm sharing this with my followers again. I don't think many people are aware that we are often being duped in the grocery store!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for tweeting and pinning this hub!

Do you know where the fresh produce is coming from? Local farmers, or imported from countries where regulations about pesticides and herbicides are not so strong when they exist at all?


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Going to tweet this hub and share it on Pinterest. As to the dollar store, we have one in our area that also sells fresh produce. Sometimes we can get 3 red peppers for a dollar and similar savings on other fresh items. A 5# bag of Idaho potatoes for a dollar is a good thing! I only shop for fresh items regarding food sold there and it is hit or miss as to what one will find.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Zubair Ahmed for reading and commenting on this article. and for sharing. This issue of counterfeiting food in all the ways described in this article are only getting worse. One can't be too careful about where they buy their food items. While I think the Dollar Store is a great place to save money on some things, I think food and toothpaste and things of this sort would not be on my list at those stores.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you rajan jolly for reading, commenting, voting on and sharing this hub! In fact the counterfeit food industry has grown considerably since I wrote this article just a few months ago and you wouldn't believe some of the garbage (literally) that is being put in food nowadays cheat the customer.


Zubair Ahmed profile image

Zubair Ahmed 3 years ago

Hi Au fait,

Your hub is worrying me now. I thought counterfeiting was only for tangible goods that you can use, not actually thought about food being in that basket.

Yes I remember the milk case in China, I just hope people caught doing these things are looked up for good and their business closed down. This should send out a message to would-be counterfeiters that we're not going to put up with their crap :-)..

Thanks for sharing


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Au fait, I had no idea the fake food business was so big! Seems not enough is being done to stem this. Thanks for the shout out.

Voted up, interesting and sharing.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Deborah-Diane for reading, commenting, and pinning this hub! Reading the ingredients list might be helpful, but the most important thing I should think would be buying from reputable vendors. No off brand stuff you've never heard of, no buying off brand stuff at the Dollar Store, etc. As with the poisonous toothpaste, I think imports from China and some other countries is where most of the counterfeit stuff is coming in.


Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

Corn syrup in my honey? Olive oil that doesn't come from olives? Argh! I hate the idea of being cheated out the of the pure foods that I buy. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I am posting this to my "Interesting Articles" board.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Shyron. It is all about greed isn't it? That's why some vendors are deceiving people about what exactly they are buying. Hardly anything is safe anymore.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

Most interesting hub Au fait. We have enough things that make us sick without the "money worshipers" sticking their 2 cents worth in and making a buck off consumers.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Rochelle Frank for you high praise and good wishes.

I am getting better at last, but it's slow. Missed work for a couple of days last week and began to wonder if I was gonna live! Then I was afraid I WAS gonna live and it was so bad to have to live through . . . ;) Seriously, I have been really sick and I believe it was/is the flu. Won't miss it when it's gone. Take care and stay well!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W, for reading, commenting, voting on, and especially for sharing this hub! Agree with everything you said on this subject. People are coming to realize, I think, that we are all responsible for ourselves and must keep a vigilant eye on our food supply, our medical services, and so much more, to keep ourselves and our families safe.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you livingsta, for reading, commenting, voting on, and sharing this hub! You are so right in that everyone needs to be aware of the many different ways our food supply is being corrupted. No telling how much worse it may get and even be dangerous in some respects.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you mperrottet, for reading, commenting, voting on, and sharing this hub! I'm glad getting the information all together in one place is helpful to you too. I to, think it can be helpful to see how some of the different things we read and hear about fit together and affect each other and in turn affect ourselves. Researching the different aspects of a subject can bring things together and offer a different perspective sometimes.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Athlyn Green for reading and commenting on this hub. People do have to be well informed and vigilant about a lot of things nowadays.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country

You really do write great hubs.. and (shame, shame) I don't always comment even if I do usually vote and/or share.

Hope you are feeling MUCH better soon.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Rochelle Frank, thank you for reading and commenting on this hub! You are so lucky to be able to have a garden and chickens too! I grew up on a farm and I know how much better everything is when you raise it yourself.

Sorry it's taken me so long to address my comments, but work takes every bit of time during the week and every bit of energy -- and now I'm sicker n' a dog with chills and the whole 9 yards (for the last 4 days actually). Been in bed most of the day and now trying to stay warm while I try to get to at least a few comments. I'm always slow because of time constraints, but being sick has made things even tougher. Even so, I appreciate very much that you and all my readers take the time to read and comment on my hubs.


mperrottet profile image

mperrottet 3 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

I knew about the fake fish thing, but was unaware of some of these shocking practices that are going on. Great informative hub that hopefully will make all of us more careful about what we eat. I really love the research that you do on these subjects - excellent! Voted up, useful, interesting and sharing.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom

This is scary. I did not have a clue that oils and other food were counterfeited. Thank you so much for sharing this. Voted up and sharing! Pinning and tweeting too!!!


Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 3 years ago from West Kootenays

A very timely subject. It is downright scary where things are headed. Good information, well presented.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country

This is one of my favorite subjects.. to read and write about. We really need to get back to eating more basic foods, and back away from the processed "food" that is so convenient and easy.

Even the fresh produce in stores is not necessarily grown in the best conditions.

I always look forward to Spring when I can start growing and eating directly from my garden.

At least, I know my hens are healthy.. and how fresh the eggs are.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

This same subject has been getting more attention in the news of late and it should stay there, but undoubtedly with the short attention span of people, it will not. It is not only dangerous to NOT know what we are eating...but such a scam when cheaper alternatives are being substituted for the more expensive items. It should be unlawful and surely is but so hard to watch and regulate given the parameters of our scanty food inspection system. Up votes on this good hub and will share.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

tillsontitan: Thank you so much for taking time to read and comment. The state of our food supply is getting more and more worrisome. It's all about greed . . .


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

getwellsoon: Thank you for reading and commenting on this hub! I agree with you. Processed foods allow for a lot of adulteration and there's no telling how much saw dust -- or worse, we have all eaten unknowingly.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

This is a scary hub! As Americans we have become trusting...we don't suspect our 'labeled' food as being a lie, but I guess we have to. VERY interesting Au fait. Can't vote up for lack of a button but voted useful and interesting!


getwellsoon profile image

getwellsoon 4 years ago from US

I always call highly processed foods and food from fast food places fake. Only wholesome ingredients that you can pronounce make up real food that tastes good and is good for you.

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