Food fraud: Should we be worried?

An international expert in food fraud says New Zealanders are being exposed to it on a daily basis.

Food fraud is estimated to cost the global food industry US$49 billion a year, with New Zealand companies bearing some of that cost.

US-based The Food System Institute is among the organisations working to educate and prevent agri-terrorism and promote food safety.

Institute director and a professor at the University of Minnesota, Shaun Kennedy, has been in New Zealand to meet with industry and Government groups to talk about the issue.

He told Rural Today's Dominic George the term 'food fraud' encompasses a broad range of potential activities.

Shaun Kennedy is an expert in food fraud and agro-terrorism.
Shaun Kennedy is an expert in food fraud and agro-terrorism. Photo credit: Supplied

"It can be counterfeit products, it can be products that went off shelf life that have been relabelled and put back on the shelf," he said.

However, Kennedy said the biggest worry was with products which had been altered.

"These are products which have been diluted, an active ingredient had been removed, and an alternative had been put in its place."

He said it usually meant that the consumer was paying more than they should, for something that was not what they wanted.

In some cases it could lead to human health harm. Such was the case in 2008 when Chinese baby formula was tainted with the toxic chemical melamine, which killed six babies.

While food fraud is estimated to cost the global food industry US$49 billion a year, Kennedy said that could be the tip of the iceberg.

"That's just a best-guess estimate. Fraud is a criminal activity, so we only know about what we catch."

He said the issue was likely to be affecting New Zealanders on a daily basis.

"Across industries in various countries, we work with them to come up with what level of fraud they have been subjected to, and on average 10 percent on retail shelves at any time has some level of food fraud in it.

"So it is incredibly likely that today you have eaten at least one thing, if not more  that had some degree of fraud in it."

He said common products which were targets for food fraud were fruit juices, olive oil, wine and seafood.

Listen to the interview.

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