vegetables _ food fraud

Buying local vastly increases your chances of getting what you pay for — and avoiding food fraud. / Florida Food & Farm file photo

Florida Food & Farm has been saying, for more than two years, “Know your farmer (or rancher, or supplier).” That’s because, the closer to home you buy your food, the more likely you are to get what you pay for and avoid food fraud.

Consider: Just over a year ago, Italy’s forestry police broke up a ring selling counterfeit Italian olive oil. Thousands of tons of “Italian extra virgin olive oil” were sold; but the oils originated in at least four other countries, including Syria and Tunisia.

The consequences of poor food safety can, of course, be far more dire than fraudulent mislabeling. In 2008, 300,000 babies in China became ill — six died — from drinking infant formula that contained melamine. The chemical, used to create plastic, increased the formula’s protein content.

Chinese health authorities had certified the formula as safe. Two people were executed and three received life-in-prison terms. Others convicted in the fraud received varying degrees of punishment.

A short history of “pure food”

In 1906, the U.S. government enacted the Pure Food and Drug Act, which prohibits the “manufacture, sale or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods …” But effective enforcement is difficult, especially with supply chains of food having become globalized.

Help might be on the way. In February, the Belgium-based Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) issued new Benchmarking Requirements, in the organization’s efforts “to provide continuous improvement in food safety management systems so as to ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to consumers worldwide.”

The new version of the Benchmarking Requirements sets the standards for good food-safety practices, which are then adopted by companies within the food industry.

“GFSI … achieves what no one company – or country – could do alone. With food traded globally, we need to work together to ensure one safe food supply,” said Mike Robach, chairman of the nonprofit’s Board of Directors, in a prepared statement.

GFSI helps to increase trust in food quality

Food-safety certification programs are “recognized” by the Global Food Safety Initiative. GFSI then lends its “nameplate authority to any operation obtaining certification from one these (programs).” This increases trust in the food supply chain.

The new Benchmarking Requirements include “new requirements to fight food fraud, to incorporate unannounced audits and, overall, to increase transparency and objectivity in the benchmarking process,” according to the GFSI.

In addition, the new standards incorporate requirements for farm-to-fork supply chains.

To download the Benchmarking Requirements, visit