Food Fraud and Organics

Food Fraud and Organics  |  I received a call from a CBC producer on Thursday afternoon to see if I was willing/interested in being interviewed on a story relating to of a whistleblower spilling the beans on a company passing conventional chicken being passed as organic.  The interviews were going to be on syndicate radio that essentially means speaking on local radio stations across Canada (truly from PEI to Regina). I was thinking how to approach the story as it could be sour grapes from the whistleblower who afterall had been dismissed from her position 2-3 months after the attempted organic fraud. One could argue that if she was outraged by the mislabeling she would have gone directly to the resident CFIA inspector. However, it was more likely that she knew going against the management would not prove a good career choice. Still the act of blocking the shipment of the conventional/organic combo reportedly the reason the management did dismiss her a few months later. Ironically the dismissed worker probably saved the company given that if the mislabeled product had been distributed the owner would have been faced with a $5m fine along with possible criminal prosecution (if the Safe Foods for Canadian Act was followed).  In any event, one can predict the company will compensate the ex-employee and the truth will remain with the worker and company.

Aside from the issue if whistleblower protection, the story did bring up the issue relating to how easy it can be to pass conventional foods off for organic. The financial benefits are obvious given the premium price paid for organic foods. After a little research there were some alarming stories of conventional eggs being passed for organic and the story of a BC bakery using normal flour to bake organic bread. The incidence were not small and involved millions of dollars. So one would suspect that fraud on this scale would have been passed as criminal fraud and prosecution. In the end those involved had their organic certification suspended but then reinstated. A similar case in the US resulted in the owner being fined $500, 000 with two years behind bars. So we can take this as a case that food fraud in Canada is a relatively low risk activity. Yet, it would be wrong to suggest that organic farmers within Canada are out to dupe the public. I would say 99.9% of organic farmers are totally dedicated to delivering on their promise to follow the regulations to the letter. However, one would question how much fraud goes on at the processing level and even at retail it is so easy to put conventional produce in the organic section – A tomato is a tomato after all. The extent, or even if this occurs is open to speculation but opens up the further question of food fraud. We do know that food fraud is rampant in the seafood sector with over 30% being mislabeled. Does this matter given that if the consumer dosent notice then no harm done. Similar to organic, if the consumer thinks its organic then all is well given there is no added food safety risk or difference in nutrition content compared to conventional. The obvious answer is yes that it does matter given that the consumer pays the premium for organic foods. My comment in the interview was more along the lines let people enjoy organics if it makes them happy. I still standby this view given the lack of actual nutritional benefits derived from organics. In terms of the economics, we can look at a diverse range of commodities with outrageous markups- water and cheese being two.  

After one interview the radio presenter mentioned that the comments made would stirrup a hornet’s nest of trouble. Interestingly, the comments returned did not focus on the nutrition or safety of organics over conventional but aspects of environmental sustainability and animal welfare.  However, even here organic production comes under the spotlight. Pesticides (non-synthetic) can be used in organic production and typically require a higher concentration with more applications. One comment suggested that the natural pesticides have no side effects and are selective for the bad bugs – how wrong could they be. In animal welfare, I read that an organic chicken farm in the US provides a small skylight on the side of the housing so a few rays of sunlight can enter. This is all what is needed to constitute access to the outside under the organic standards. I could go on about how open to infection animals are in the absence of antibiotics but that is another story. In the end the interviews were complete and sure the story will sail into the background. Still the big issues of whistleblower protection and food fraud will need to be addressed sooner than later.

Member Spotlight - Global Food Safety Resource

In this edition of Spotlight, we spoke to Tina Brillinger, President & CEO of Global Food Safety Resource. 

What type of service or supplies does your company provide to the food industry?
Tina replied that Global Food Safety Resource provides an online information hub of trusted solutions and expertise in order to meet the needs of todays busy food professionals who increasing are looking for resources and solutions to meet the new requirements compliance that’s being demanded by governments and private businesses alike. 

How long has GFSR been a member of the OFPA?
Tina told us that the company had been a member since 2011.  Tina responded to the question about the benefits of being a Sustaining Corporate Member (personally and for the company) by saying that being a member of the OFPA helps them stay informed on important changes taking place in the industry while providing the company with an opportunity to grow awareness of their resources to food businesses operating in Ontario who could benefit.  She further mentioned that the Annual Meetings provided a great opportunity for her to network with others who have a similar interest and with vendors who provide solutions about their latest products and services. 

Can you give us any insight into the future direction of the food industry?
She responded by saying that, with the new requirements for compliance and certification standards by governments and private business, it was critical that food businesses become proactive to ensure the safety of their supply chains and consumers.  Taking a proactive approach to food safety can ensure all suppliers have systems and protocols in place to mitigate any risk of food contamination that could be cause for a recall event to ensure their product label and brands are protected assets. Tina further stated that food businesses can no longer afford to operate in a way that was acceptable for the 20th century and be caught off guard by a supplier whose systems have fallen through the cracks.  Businesses who wish to grow and prosper in the 21st century must consider automating their processes to better manage their documents for easy retrieval in the event of an unexpected inspection or recall event.  No one business can assume all their suppliers are meeting the certain minimum requirements for compliance, it was their responsibility to ensure that the standards and systems of all their suppliers are actively monitored for compliance.  

Is there anything else you would like the readership of the OFPA to know about your company, your commitment to food safety, or as a sustaining corporate member?  
Tina stated that since it’s launched in 2010, Global Food Safety Resource (GFSR) had enabled food professionals and business owners to tap into valuable resources on everything from traceability and supply chain management to certification standards, food science and software technology to automate processes for compliance.  She said that working with a team of writers and subject matter experts in the area of food safety, GFSR publishes easy-to-read articles with an editorial format that is both pragmatic and digestible to ensure food safety professionals can gain a greater sense of clarity and practical insight on issues and topics that are of interest to them.  To meet the growing needs of stakeholders operating in global markets, GFSR has recently made its content available for translation in 60 languages with content supported through a mobile platform for easy access by smartphone and tablets.  With it’s recent restructuring site visitors can navigate the site much easier to find relevant resources with its new category groupings like industry standards and regulatory compliance or simply the section titled ‘resources’ where they can access everything from food safety news updates to whitepapers and blogs or Webinars and Video to stay current and up-to-date with what’s happening in the industry. 

She finished by saying that in the past year, GFSR has quadrupled the number of visits to its site which offers a Complimentary Free Membership where Members can choose the kinds of information they wish to receive that can help them stay informed and increase their knowledge, including their popular eNewsletter, eye on Food SafetyTM, featuring articles, whitepapers and a Calendar of Events.   Her final thought was that many food professionals like social media so they can stay attuned to what’s happening in the industry in ‘real time’. 

Food professionals can join GFSR’s active discussions through its LinkedIn group or Twitter Feed @GFSRCentre. To access the wide range of resources that’s available online visit them at www.globalfoodsafetyresource.com

 

Congratulations 2015 OFPA Scholarship Winners

HillaryOreillyHillary O'Reilly is the recipient of the 2015 OFPA George Brown Scholarship for outstanding academic achievement in Food and Nutrition Management. Hillary is currently working towards completion of her CSNM certification and due to graduate in June 2015. The OFPA wishes Hillary well in her future career and endeavors.

 

YennyKurniawanYenny Kurniawan is a Food and Nutrition Management Student at George Brown College. She started at George Brown in 2013 where she found her passion for food, nutrition, and health and safety, when she graduated from the Culinary Management Nutrition program. Yenny is especially drawn towards health care. At this moment she is looking forward to completing her education and following her path to working and developing a career in the
health care industry.

JignaPatelJigna Patel is in the final year of the Pharmaceutical and Food Science Technology program. She is a graduate of Durham College’s Chemical Laboratory Technician program as well. Jigna took a number of Microbiology courses, including Food Microbiology in both laboratory and lecture sessions. She is always engaged and interested in lecture and lab material.

 

KaitlynBailonKaitlyn Balon is a graduate of Ryerson University from the School of Occupational and Public Health in the Public Health stream. Kaitlyn is currently applying to Masters Degree programs with a focus in Epidemiology. She is very interested in food safety, food microbiology and infectious disease.

 

Congratulations Kayla Murry - Clive Kingsbury Poster Competition Winner

KaylaMurray1

The first recipient of the Clive Kingsbury poster prize was awarded to Kayla Murray (pictured) from the Department of Food Science, University of Guelph who presented her research on the decontamination of leafy greens using gas phase sanitizers.

Second place went to Cynthia Logie from AFL, University of Guelph who presented a poster relating to her work on Salmonella diagnostics in poultry production.

Rumpa Biswas (Department of Food Science, University of Guelph) was awarded 3rd place for her research on a comparative study of seed disinfection methods. The Clive Kingsbury award was established this year in remembrance of the late OFPA Vice President. 

Thanks to all the short-listed students who presented in this years competition.  From Left to Right: Nagwa Ali, Di Wang, Jessica Bannon, Kayla Murray, Moustappha Oki (OFPA),  Rumpa Bhattacharjee, Carlos G Leon-Velarde and Cynthia Logie

KaylaMurray2

Congratulations Anamika Sarka - 2014 OFPA Scholarship Winner

AnamikaSarkaAnamika Sarkar was this years recipient of the OFPA scholarship award in recognition for her academic performance in the area of biotechnology. She was awarded the $1000 cheque by Dr. Moustapha Oke of the OFPA (left)  and Yves Deschenes, Associate Vice President, Human Resources (right) at the Centennial College Awards event held on the 15th March 2015.

Congratulations Anamika.  We wish you well in the future.

 

A Word From The OFPA President - Lynne Fruhner

LynneFruhnerThese past six months have been the most unpredictable I remember during my time with the OFPA Board of Directors.  We’ve suffered great loss in the sudden passing of our Vice President, Clive Kingsbury, whose shoes I was both honoured and terrified to fill.

This was followed closely by the unexpected departure of our 2015 President, Peter Stein from Pillers Fine Foods. The OFPA benefitted greatly from Peter’s broad scope of experience, unfettered enthusiasm, leadership and passion in all of the positions he held with the board. We wish Peter continued success in his future adventures in Nova Scotia. Peter took our Golf Tournament to new heights in recent years and I do so hope to see many of you there next week on June 10th. As we move forward into 2015, I’m grateful for Peter agreeing to stay on as Past President in an advisory role. Most recently, Mike Byerley has also resigned as the Newsletter Editor to focus on his growing business. All the best to Peter and Mike!

We have an exciting 18 months of change ahead for the OFPA and food related industries in Ontario. The OFPA website overhaul, not unlike any IT project you’ve probably experienced, is progressing, albeit at a slower pace than any of us would like. On-line registration is now up and running. We’ve refined our LinkedIn and Twitter profiles and strive to continually improve our communications with you. We’re now proudly collaborating with the NSF-GFTC in Guelph to provide excellence in programming and awareness for our member organizations. We’ve been experimenting with the meeting floorplans to bring the best possible format to meet both participant and exhibitor needs.

Let’s be frank, our membership numbers have been depleting for nearly ten years now; no doubt a reflection of the global financial situation, leading to organizational cutbacks both in staffing and resources for your professional activity dollars.

Fortunately there is good news in response to this ongoing challenge.

There is no easier way to get face time with clients, government contacts, suppliers and your peers than at one of OFPA’s three annual meetings. The return on your training dollar compared to similar local meetings and symposia is far greater. In 2015 we’re focussed on bringing you even more information on new technologies, regulatory changes and food safety information.

Why is this important? Our careers demand that we keep up with our ever changing world.

Fraudulent activitiesin the food industry continue to be uncovered, demonstrating the risk it poses not just to your weekly grocery bill but also to the long-term safety of the dinner you put on the table. Who can forget the melamine contamination of baby formula and pet food? Bacterial and chemical contamination of foods and the environment such as Listeria, iodine, and neonicotinoid residues continue to find new ways to challenge us.

For the first time we are seeing criminal charges laid against companies and their executives involved in food contamination cases, such as the charges laid against a subsidiary of Conagra related to peanut butter tainted with Salmonella.

Regulatory changes, included in the American Food Safety Modernization Act and the Safe Food for Canadians Act, continue to be implemented over time, creating ongoing challenges for our food processors, retailers, and suppliers.

If the predictions are accurate, by 2050, the world is going to be facing some of it’s most difficult challenges in food security globally.  What happens in the next 10 to 20 years can impact the magnitude of this challenge. This generation of food producers, processors, suppliers, regulators and scientists has a rare opportunity to impact far into the future and leave a lasting legacy in the process.

All of these challenges are of interest to us at the OFPA and we know to you as well. I look forward to seeing you at our upcoming events and as always welcome your feedback toward providing sessions that bring you the highest value for your investment.

See you on the 10th!

Lynne

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