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FDA Shouldn't Ignore Food Fraud

, March 31, 2010

As the FDA has been dealing with food contamination and food safety issues, it has largely ignored the issue of food fraud.

Now American food producers are urging the FDA to take a stronger stance on fraud, which occurs when food is improperly labeled.

Incidents of this type of fraud have been on the rise. Examples include a store was selling expensive "sheep's milk" cheese that was actually made from cow's milk; cheap, common fish being passed off as expensive catches; and “100% Honey” being made with sugar beets or corn syrup. Food fraud seems to pose a special risk to the fish industry; the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory randomly tested seafood between 1988 and 1997 and found that 34 percent had been sold as a different species.

Food fraud can actually prove threatening to consumers. Recently, both Heinz USA and Kraft Foods purchased some of the millions of pounds of moldy tomato paste that a California farmer passed off as higher- grade product. A food-testing expert from Rockefeller University said:

"We put so much emphasis on food and purity of ingredients and where they come from, but then there are things selling that are not what they say on the label. There's an important issue here in terms of economics and consumer safety."

However, it is not difficult to test for food fraud. Recently, high-tech tools, such as DNA testing and isotope radio analysis, have been developed and can be used to identify the species of many types of food, and even whether a fish was farmed or caught wild.

Several food producer groups have asked the FDA to set industry-wide standards, which would allow for companies to sue competitors that sell food packaged as a more expensive product. However, it doesn't look as though the FDA will act on standards soon: the olive oil industry has been waiting for the agency to take an action on its request for standards since 1991.