Presentation – Food Fraud Prevention Research Strategy at the National Academy of Sciences

Earlier this week I presented during the Food Forum at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. The subject was Food Fraud Prevention, the research, unmet policy needs, and recommendations for a first step forward. My summary research question was: “What is the optimal role of the US Government and Regulatory role in Food Fraud?”

National Academy of Sciences (USA)

Overall, the National Academy of Sciences is “a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars. Established by an Act of Congress, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.” Also, “The National Academies’ service to government has become so essential that Congress and the White House have issued legislation and executive orders over the years that reaffirm its unique role.”

Food Forum

The Health and Medicine Division established the Food Forum in 1993:

  • “to allow selected science and technology leaders in the food industry, top administrators in the federal government, representatives from consumer interest groups, and academicians to periodically discuss and debate food and food-related issues openly and in a neutral setting.”
    • We did present Food Fraud as an emerging food issue.
  • “The Forum provides a mechanism for these diverse groups to identify possible approaches for addressing food and food safety problems and issues surrounding the often complex interactions among industry, academia, regulatory agencies, and consumers.”
    • We did present that there is a need to further refine and reinforce paradigm-shifting research focus, such as an extremely interdisciplinary approach that focuses primarily on the root cause.
  • “The objective is to illuminate issues, not to resolve them. …Similarly, workshop summaries or other products resulting from forum activities are not intended to reach conclusions or recommendations but, instead, are to reflect the variety of opinions expressed by the participants.”
    • We did focus our presentation on a wide range of opinions, presented many of the current activities and the unmet needs, including a potentially transformational leadership role for NAS.

Dr. Spink’s Food Fraud Prevention Presentation  Food Fraud Prevention Research Strategy at the National Academy of Sciences

Food Fraud was selected as a topic along with novel food proteins (laboratory-created meat-like protein, and insect-derived products), the CRISPR technology, and health risk communication.

Presentation Title: Technology Related to Detection, Traceability, and/or Adulteration (Food Fraud)

Presentation Key Points:

  1. to shift from the detection and traceability response to defining the objective by first applying Criminology to identify the root cause,
  2. to consider decision sciences of managerial accounting for business and public policy administration for governments,
  3. then supply chain management and supplier quality assurance to reduce the fraud opportunity, and, finally,
  4. to create the most efficient and effective specification for food science and food authenticity technology.

Presentation Scope:

  • Technology Related to: “Detection, …”

-Contaminants (includes a Codex Alimentarius definition), Adulterants (there is no standard, authoritative definition)

-The type of Food Risk is: Food Quality, Food Safety, Food Defense

  • “Traceability, and …”

-Where it has been, where it is going, where it is now

-The goal is transparency, control, and support of a recall

  • “Adulteration (Food Fraud)”

-The Food Risk is: Food Fraud

But… the goal is not to catch product but to prevent health hazards by reducing Food Fraud from occurring in the first place.

Presentation Conclusions

The primary challenges of applying the Food Fraud prevention concepts are:

  1. Inefficient, single-discipline response to a current public health harm – when the harm is reduced or eliminated there is also a reduction in the focus before the root cause has been addressed.
  2. Prevention is interdisciplinary – not complicated, but it is difficult to shift the paradigm. This interdisciplinary approach has reduced the number of researchers who are engaged in the complex problem.
  3. There is a need to further develop an interdisciplinary, prevention, and vulnerability reduction focus. This includes recognized thought leader organizations defining the true value and criticality of this work.
  4. Agency metrics focus on response, not prevention. The general success metrics for an agency are based on response and intervention, not proactive preventative activities. It is very challenging to shift the paradigm from reaction to prevention without also shifting the success metrics.

Presentation Call to Action: NAS Challenge/ Opportunity to Lead Paradigm Shift

The key questions to address include:

  1. Q: What is the root cause of the Food Fraud problem and what would enable an efficient prevention approach (including the definition of success metrics)?
  2. Q: What is the proper method of addressing vulnerabilities (weaknesses in a system) vs. hazards (problems that will lead to harm if not immediately addressed)?
  3. Q: What is efficient food traceability that supports the goal to improve food safety and consumer confidence?
  4. Q SUMMARY: What is the optimal role of the US Government and Regulatory role in Food Fraud prevention (after “what is prevention”)?

It is very encouraging that Food Fraud prevention has continued to advance as an area of greater focus by a broad range of researchers. NAS and the Food Forum have a potentially vital role in continuing to formalize the nomenclature and methods unique to this complex problem.


  • Spink, J. (2018). Presentation: Technology Related to Detection, Traceability, and/or Adulteration (Food Fraud), Food Forum, The Health and Medicine Division (HMD, National Academy of Sciences, December 4, 2018, Washington, DC, Presentation URL:
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