Beef fraud widespread in past two decades

Over 400 cases of food fraud relating to the beef supply chain took place in the past twenty years, according to new analysis.

The paper published in the Food Control journal monitored alerts from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) and HorizonScan databases between 1997 and 2017. It found 413 incidents of fraud in the beef supply chain ranging from the 2013 horsemeat scandal to the corruption scandal in Brazil in 2017 that enabled rotten meat to enter the food chain.

The authors said the officially documented incidents of beef fraud may only represent a small fraction of the true number.

Counterfeiting was the most common type of fraud in the beef industry, accounting for 42.9% of all reports documented. Counterfeiting included products manufactured or packed on unapproved premises, or without appropriate inspection or documentation, as well as products issued with fraudulent health certificates.

Primary processing was the most vulnerable area of the supply chain, accounting for 35.8% of reports of which 95.5% were counterfeiting cases.

The paper noted an extensive history of beef-related fraud including a 2005 Chinese case where an unauthorized colorant, Sudan red, was used in meat products, and a 2006 incident where approximately 150 tonnes of rotten meat was distributed to restaurants across Germany.

Meat is one of the most highly-priced food commodities and therefore a prime target for food fraud. The authors concluded that to protect itself and consumers, the beef industry needs a better understanding of the vulnerabilities within the beef supply chain.

Experts are already predicting an increased risk of fraud across all food commodities due to the coronavirus which has seen food supply chains fragment and economies tank, both of which are considered key risk factors for fraud.

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