- Food and Cooking
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
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.
More about food and other potentially dangerous products by Au Fait
- Soy May Be Dangerous To Your Health!
If you are not already aware, there is a controversy between nutritionists and the medical community regarding whether or not soy products are dangerous to your health, or beneficial to your health. It is non-formented soybeans that are at issue, and
- Pink Slime Turns Dog Food Into People Food!
Pink Slime is in our food. Pink Slime used to be used for dog foods and other animal foods. What you should know about what it is, how it is processed, what foods it is in, and why you may not want it there. Why isn't the USDA requiring it to be on f
- Do Diet Drinks Actually Make You Fat?
Research is piling up that diet drinks and artificial sweetners can make you fat. Artificial sweetners are not the only thing that is in soft drinks that is unhealthful.
- Toxic Chemicals In Our Toothpaste -- Triclosan and Diethylene Glycol -- Is Anything Safe Anymore?
Chines toothpaste often contains diephylene glycol and toothpaste manufactured in the U.S. often contains triclosan. Both of these chemicals are considered toxic. Why these chemicals are toxic and what is being done about them.
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.