Buyer beware: Why food fraud is on the rise in Canada
Published Wednesday, February 8, 2017 9:34AM EST
After international scandals involving horse meat and mislabelled fish, there’s a push in Canada and around the world to combat food fraud.
Today, technology is being developed to try to help consumers detect the truth about what they’re really eating.
Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution at Dalhousie University, says complaints about food fraud are spiking in Canada, with more incidences of “whistleblowers” reporting mislabelled products and other food-related deception to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“We don’t know for sure how big the problem is, but there is a problem out there,” Charlebois told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.
Charlebois said food fraud is essentially a public health hazard, particularly when it comes to allergies and food intolerances.
“If there is a change in the list of ingredients, or if there’s an added ingredient that is cheaper, it may represent a risk to certain consumers,” he said.
But the federal government is starting to crack down. One of the largest food-fraud related probes in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s history found led to charges against Mucci Farms.
Mucci International Marketing, Mucci Pac and two of its directors pleaded guilty to a variety of regulatory offences and were fined $1.5 million after importing produce, including tomatoes from Mexico, and selling them as a “Product of Canada.” However, the company denies that the mislabelling was intentional.
Charlebois also cited a case in which a farm in Ontario was falsely marketing its chicken as organic.
In 2013, Ikea was forced to remove its meatballs from stores in Europe over allegations that they contained horsemeat. And a recent study in the U.S. revealed high rates of substitution when it comes to meat labelling, meaning there is a gap between the contents of the product and information found on its label.
The rise of food counterfeiting is partially linked to the increase in global trade and an increase in food prices around the world.
Charlebois says it’s not just Ottawa that’s cracking down. “Provinces are also looking into this, particularly Ontario and B.C., they’ve actually set up a council to look into the matter with industry,” he said.
He cited a municipal case as well, saying the City of Toronto fined a “major hotel” for serving what they called “freshly squeezed” orange juice that was actually found to be juice that came from a can.