YVES REY, Executive Director, IFAAO & Senior Advisor to Danone and UNOPS

The last decade has produced a food revolution. Today’s consumers are concerned with food and are intensively focused on the relationship of their diets to their health. Now more than ever, consumers are demanding information on and reassurance of the safety, quality, authenticity, content, and origin of their food. This revolution is shaping how products are made and controlled.

One area of primary concern is that of food authenticity. In light of recent scandals, food fraud has become much more of an issue for consumers. The numerous crises have adversely affected confidence and caused severe brand damage. Thus, protecting consumer rights and preventing fraudulent practices are important and challenging issues facing the food industry.

Unfortunately, the various food laws around the world don’t contain a uniform definition. As with food safety, food laws should provide an enabling environment for the food industry to uncover fraudulent practices including regulatory frameworks, robust laboratory methodologies, effective enforcement practices, and data sharing. But, unfortunately, we are still a long way from getting that framework.

The first attempts for progress in this area were made by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) when its board decided to follow the recommendations of the Food Fraud Think Tank and proposed the incorporation of two food fraud mitigation steps as key elements in the GFSI Guidance Document. This would require a company to perform a food fraud vulnerability assessment and have a control plan in place. So, in a food safety certification audit conducted against GFSI-recognized schemes, the auditor should review the documentation on the vulnerability assessment process and confirm that a comprehensive control plan has been developed and implemented.

In parallel, GFSI proposed a clearer definition of food fraud as “a collective term encompassing the deliberate and intentional substitution, addition, tampering, or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, labelling, product information or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain that could impact consumer health.”

This approach has undoubtedly paid off, because as far as I know, none of the companies certified against one of the GFSI-recognized schemes that have food fraud requirements have had to deal with food fraud issues.

Obviously, it must be pursued consistently. As a former GFSI chairman and current executive director of the International Food Authenticity Assurance Organization (IFAAO), I am well aware that vulnerability assessments, forensic audits, and testing have not measurably stopped food fraud. But it is important to recognize two main flaws in the approaches that have been taken; the need to address:

  • How we can extend GFSI approaches to as many companies as possible, as our supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
  • How the approach can be improved in introducing the concept of food authenticity which is more inclusive than fraud. The two words “authenticity” and “fraud” are not mutually exclusive. But fraud requires intent and proof of the illegal act (evidence); without intent and evidence, there is no fraud.

TODAY’S INITIATIVES. Thus … here comes Codex, here comes IFAAO. The  Codex Alimentarius international food standards, guidelines, and codes of practice contribute to the safety, quality, and fairness of the international food trade and, in my opinion, food authenticity and food fraud should be an integral part of the Codex mission.

While being recommended for voluntary application by members, Codex standards serve in many cases as a basis for national legislation and, consequently, could serve as a basis for globally harmonized food law that will facilitate global trade. IFAAO consists of experts from around the globe, including food industry scientists, academia, and service providers.

IFAAO could play an instrumental role in this process of harmonization, because this is part of its core mission:

  • To aid Codex in the advancement of the creation of a single harmonized international protocol that will help establish the authenticity of food ingredients and act as the foundation for the creation of laws and standards for food authenticity worldwide.
  • To offer guidance to globally harmonize the different initiatives in food authenticity, food fraud, and economically motivated adulteration with the aim of standardizing the scientific analytical verification of food authenticity/fraud and of drafting the codes of practice and guidelines for authenticity and food fraud management systems.

IFAAO’s first concrete action has been to define food authenticity as: “Food authenticity is the process of irrefutably proving that a food or food ingredient is in its original, genuine, verifiable, and intended form as declared and represented.”

The second is to take part, as a panelist, at the Codex Alimentarius Commission Side Event on Food Integrity and Food Authenticity: A Way Forward. It is a critical starting point, we will have the opportunity to set the basis for the integration of food authenticity and food fraud in the Codex works while defining where we stand regarding the different initiatives and what should be done to guarantee food authenticity and mitigate food fraud risk.