Ten Year Review: Challenges of IP Enforcement for Food and Ag Products

Ten years ago, I published my first peer-reviewed, refereed, scholarly journal article. While submitting and publishing is much easier after you have momentum and a history of twenty-nine journal articles and twenty published chapters… the first couple of articles are difficult even to get considered, let alone published.

The Big Break: An Invitation to a Journal’s Special Edition

Early in an academic career, some academics leverage their mentors to publish as co-authors. In the field of food fraud, I had no mentors since there were no articles. My publication goal was “anywhere, anytime for anyone.” Fortunately for me, earlier in July 2009, one of the is journal’s guest editors heard me present for the MSU Institute for International Agriculture. I presented “Packaging for Food Safety & Food Fraud.” (It’s funny the things you remember – when I was looking up this detail, I remember the simultaneous translation team standing up and frantically waving at me since I was speaking so fast! I learned to slow down and provide some silent breaks to let translators catch up.)

Dr. Sudhir Kochhar from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (India) invited me to submit an article to their special edition. I had my first big break. To be invited to a special edition was vital because they explicitly wanted my content and me – I did not have to convince editors or reviewers that food fraud was “a thing” and within the scope of their journal.

Collaboration with Don DeKieffer, DeKieffer & Horgan

The article went from just being a curiosity to actually being valuable after the insight and resource provided by Don DeKieffer. Don had been a mentor for several years, and he was a recognized thought leader in intellectual property rights protection. He provided comments during the article development, which enabled me to address extremely specific and very practical questions. This real-life perspective and focus have become an enduring attribute of my ongoing research.

Don reviewed his incident database and selected a few cases that provided many different perspectives. Also, he helped me identify and leverage extensive public information such as court records and transcripts that his team had collected.

The Article: The Challenge of IP Enforcement in Food and Ag Products

This invitation – and the collaboration with Don – was an opportunity to refine some of my ideas. Information was gathered to dive deep into the application to the problem. 

This was the first scholarly article where I referred to the term “food fraud.”

The scope was quite broad: “The objectives of this paper are to:

  • 1) review the underlying fraud opportunities (complex and on a massive scale), including an exploration of types of fraudsters and types of fraud;
    • 2) review how globalization and source economies contribute to the problem;
    • 3) review the complexity and challenges of enforcement for companies and agencies; and
    • 4) introduce the “chemistry of the crime” or the “crime triangle” to shift the focus from reactionary intervention and response to proactive prevention.”

Success was achieved by providing the explanation through five extremely detailed and heavily referenced case studies. The detail and citations were critical to the argument since it was clear these were not just my opinions.

Several key conclusions have remained a cornerstone of food fraud prevention:

  • “There are very motivated, intelligent, resilient, and aggressive fraudsters, but they can be deterred by companies or agencies focused on reducing fraud opportunities.”
    • “Standard business practices—even identified best practices—often inadvertently contribute to fraud opportunities.”
    • “We will not incarcerate our way to safety.”

Application in 2020: Use in USDA Training

The article may have been a bit ahead of its time, but it did become useful recently. I used the case studies as the foundation for the USDA National Organic Program video training course on Preventing Organic Product Fraud (see link in the references). As was the goal of the original article, the wide range of case studies provided broad insight on the types of fraudsters and the types of fraud.


It has been surprising to realize that my food fraud research started ten years ago – it seems like a shorter time. It is interesting to see what concepts have withstood the test of time. It is important to see what research has been published over the years and where there are still unmet needs. Food fraud has become a much more widely recognized scholarly research area… though there is still a need for more focus on the practical application for decision-making.


Spink, J (2011).The Challenge of Intellectual Property Enforcement for Agriculture Technology Transfers, Additives, Raw Materials, and Finished Goods against Product Fraud and Counterfeiters, Journal of Intellectual Property Rights, Volume 16, March 2011, pp 183-193. (ISI 0.304; SJR in 2019: 0.103; Scopus Cite Score 0.6)

Spink, John, Presentation:  Packaging for Food Safety & Food Fraud, Institute for International Agriculture, at DCPAH, MSU, July 2009

Organic Integrity Learning Center, Course: Preventing Organic Product Fraud, Developed by Dr. John Spink with the Organic Trade Association for the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), National Organic Program, URL: https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification/training

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