There has been an increased focus on Food Fraud and now the US Congress is taking notice. On January 10 the Congressional Research Service (CRS) – a research arm of the US Congress – published this report on Food Fraud and Economically Motivated Adulteration of Food . As with many of the other recent related US and international reports, we are pleased that several of our research articles were referenced and contributed to the discussion. While we will continue to seek out research questions for review later, we will provide an overview below.
There were several key concepts either in the report or regarding the CRS reviewing Food Fraud:
CRS and GAO
There have been reports regarding Food Fraud and Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA) by both the CRS and GAO. CRS and GAO are two distinct organizations with different missions. The Congressional Research Service conducts research exclusively for the US Congress and is within the US Library of Congress. CRS provides policy and legal analysis for questions received directly from Congressional Committees or Members – there must have been a request for them to address Food Fraud. The CRS reports are overviews or briefs on topics, whereas the Government Accountability Office (GAO) focuses more on how the US Government is operating. GAO is under Congress and led by the Comptroller of the US. CRS and GAO are very different in their goals and objectives.
CRS Food Fraud Report
The report is a comprehensive and quite exhaustive overview of Food Fraud (FF) and economically motivated adulteration (EMA) of food. They defined the focus as “food fraud and ‘economically motivated adulteration’ or EMA, a category within food fraud.”
- They reinforce that there is no US statutory definition of FF and EMA. Also, that Congress has “not addressed food fraud in a comprehensive manner.” In addition, that “no single federal agency or U.S. law directly addresses food fraud [or EMA].”
- The Food Fraud risks are presented using our Food Protection Risk Matrix from our 2011 Journal of Food Science Article (their Figure 1). The risks include Food Quality, Food Safety, Food Fraud, and Food Defense.
- They very clearly explain the content and value of the FF/EMA databases. The CRS report clearly defined the value of each of the databases and CRS – this is important for the Congress evaluating the scope and scale of the issue because the database results have been frequently misinterpreted. For example “This further reinforces the idea that a possible limitation of either database is that the available information may at times be more reflective of where research is being conducted or where resources have been dedicated to detect fraud.” Whether for addressing Food Fraud, Product Fraud, or other related attacks by intelligent human adversaries, such as with intellectual property rights counterfeiting, there is an underlying challenge of quantifying or evaluating the probability of an incident. The CRS states, however, that most researchers acknowledge that the full scale of Food Fraud “may be unknown or even possibly unknowable” (which is a quote from our article with Lev Fejes on “A review of the economic impact of counterfeiting and piracy methodologies and assessment of currently utilized estimates.”).
- There was some international focus, mentioning the European Parliament, though it appears the UK Elliott Interim Report came out too late to be included here.
- The report begins to address marketing fraud (unsupported and often deceptive statements about products) versus product fraud (a physical act of deception that is clearly defined as illegal). We identified this as a research gap and have started working on this research question.
Potential Role of the Food Safety Modernization Act. FSMA is directly addressed in: “FSMA section 106 (Protection Against Intentional Adulteration).” This is an especially important CRS section to review since on December 23, 2013 FDA just released their draft rulemaking on FSMA “Intentional Adulteration”. The CRS report was published without including the new FDA FSMA insights.
- The CRS report recognizes that FDA did respond to the GAO report on FDA/EMA by creating the WEMA, and FDA did clarify the working definitions of EMA. Food Fraud is not addressed yet by FDA.
- There is an interesting and strong statement about Food Fraud countermeasures by industry and the role of FDA: “Having such controls in place would also allow companies to consider their responsibility regarding potentially adulterated foods involving the ‘absence, substitution, or addition of constituents.’ … Since FDA could not possibly enforce every instance of food adulteration, such industry controls will be instrumental in helping to combat future adulteration before it ever reaches the marketplace.”
- As has been mentioned throughout FSMA and related reports or statements, the CRS report does clearly mention industry or commercial actions: ”FSMA also recognizes ‘third party’ audits or certifications, and several such entities have already started to address food fraud both in terms of identifying terms or assessing implementation actions such as vulnerability assessments ” ((The citation is to one of our previous articles coauthored with Christopher Elliott of Queen’s University Belfast, and Kevin Swoffer, who is a frequent contributor to GFSI activities).
Congressional Actions Involving Food Fraud. This section of the CRS report is a summary of previous actions and the most direct statement was: “Congress has introduced a number of bills intended to address concerns about food fraud, mostly with respect to concerns about a particular food or food ingredient, but has not introduced legislation that would specifically address fraud in a comprehensive manner.”
Collaboration and Engagement. Food Fraud research has been odd in that the researchers have been collaborating on establishing a theoretical foundation and harmonized definitions before the laws and regulations are finished – actually, a range of global researchers have been quoted or referenced in most of the new laws and regulations. Beyond our authored scholarly journal articles, several of our non-scholarly, non-funded extra efforts have been valuable. Our Food Fraud Overview MOOC (massive open online course) and food fraud blog posts were each quoted and referenced several times. Several non-scholarly articles were also quoted and referenced to contribute unique points in the discussion. The CRS report also mentions our Food Fraud Initiative efforts in working with the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD) and the US Pharmacopeia/ Food Chemicals Codex (a thank you to our key NCFPD contacts Amy Kircher and Karen Everstine, and USP colleagues Jeff Moore and Markus Lipp).
For anyone working on Food Fraud or researching the topic, this is a must-read. Beyond just being informative, taken with some of the other reports we’ve reviewed, this is the information that Congress is receiving. There is not opportunity to provide formal comments to this report but you can definitely include your insights or concerns when you submit your formal response to the FSMA “Intentional Adulteration” request for comments.
CRS, Congressional Research Service (2014). Food Fraud and “Economically Motivated Adulteration” of Food and Food Ingredients, Edited by Renée Johnson, January 10, 2014, 7-5700, R43358.