Food Fraud Report Australia and New Zealand issue #1

September 26, 2015

 

This is the first issue of the Food Fraud Report Australia and New Zealand, a signature news source from the Australian food labelling regulatory compliance service, Food Labelling Matters.

 

The Food Fraud Report will provide readers with a regular digest of relevant food fraud matters as reported by national and state regulators, and non-government organisations; introducing food labelling regulatory issues that invite discussion. We will attempt to unpack many complex concepts to assist consumers to understand the dynamics in the labelling of their food.

 

The author, Janine Curll is a PhDlaw Candidate (Monash University) researching food fraud and food regulatory systems; and, a Food Labelling Regulatory Affairs Consultant and Director at Food Labelling Matters (www.foodlabellingmatters.com). Prior to commencing her PhD, Janine worked as an enforcement officer at the NSW Food Authority investigating food labelling non-compliance, false description of food, health claims on food and prosecuted serious breaches of the Food Act. In that role Janine developed expert understanding of the food labelling laws and regulatory system in Australia and New Zealand. Her current research interests include demonstrating the significance of food fraud in Australia and opportunities for systematic control. Janine has a Bachelor of Science (Microbiology) and LL.B.

 

In this first edition, a food fraud definition championed by the Food Fraud Initiative at Michigan State University is introduced and a selection of cases in Australia over the period 2007-2014 is presented. For an in-depth consideration of food fraud in Australia and the challenges in compliance and enforcement, please refer to: Curll, J The significance of food fraud in Australia (2015) 43 ABLR 270: ABLR article.

 

In the next Food Fraud Report, we will have a closer look at reported food fraud cases from 2015 and introduce the theory for understanding food fraud as a risk to public health & safety.

Food fraud is a collective term used to encompass the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients, or food packaging; or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain. (Spink and Moyer (2011))

Consumers rely on food businesses making true and correct declarations as to the nature and substance of food, ingredients and claimed credence attributes. Many of us have heard of the 2008 melamine in dairy products incident in China, and the 2013 European 'horsegate' where meat products sold as 'beef' actually contained equine DNA.

 

Although Australia appears to have escaped the greatest of the most recent of food fraud scandals involving horsemeat and melamine enforcement data of regulators suggests food fraud is occurring here, regardless of whether the intention to commit fraud is present and proven in proceedings: hogget sold as lamb;[1] imported pork sold as Australian;[2] “natural” weight loss coffee, teas and chocolates sold containing undeclared withdrawn Sch IV pharmaceutical sibutramine;[3] “probiotic” yogurt sold with unsubstantiated health claims;[4] national recall of toxic yellow oleander seeds sold as “candlenut seed” with claims of weight loss;[5] “stress free Black Angus” beef sold without a verification or traceability system and fined by the New South Wales Food Authority; imported asparagus from Peru labelled “local”;[7] and, the sale of fake spirits/alcohol.[8]

The ACCC has pursued a number of egg, chicken and duck producers for “misleading or deceptive conduct”[9] in connection with the supply of the foods with claims of: “free range” eggs and “fresh-range-omega 3” eggs when a substantial proportion of the eggs in the labelled carton were from caged hens;[10] “free-to-roam in large barns” claims when the shed stocking density in practice inhibited abilities to move around;[11] “open range” and “grown nature’s way”, duck, claims used in conjunction with pictorial representations of a duck in the outdoors walking on grass near a lake and hills forming the background, when in fact the ducks were grown inside barns absent of water or access to the outside;[12] label claims ducks were “grown and grain fed in the spacious Victorian Wimmera Wheatlands” with a logo reading “range reared and grain fed” when the court found the ducks spent no time outside of a barn;[13] eggs represented as “free range eggs produced by hens fed on wholesome natural grains, [that] roam freely on green pastures during the day and return to the safety of large barns at night” along with an image of three hens in a grassy field, when in reality, hens could not move freely on an open range due to the stocking densities, flock sizes and the number, size and placement of openings to the open range;[14] and, a small egg supplier caught substituting free range eggs with cage eggs.[15]

 

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