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Dispatches from Food Integrity in Parma

Food Integrity: China consumer view and impact in fish industry

By Joe Whitworth+

23-May-2017
Last updated on 23-May-2017 at 12:32 GMT2017-05-23T12:32:12Z

Paul Brereton speaking at the event
Paul Brereton speaking at the event

Results from DNA barcoding of fish from across Europe and Chinese attitudes to food fraud were revealed during the Food Integrity conference last month.

After the event, FoodQualityNews spoke to Paul Brereton, head of Agri-food Research at Fera, who told us that we are more sensitised to food fraud now than ever.

“Food fraud was probably at its worst during the Victorian times. This was also a time when, due to the expansion of the empire, consumers were exposed to new foods, their lack of knowledge of the food making them susceptible to being duped by fraudsters,” he said.

“The poor safety and quality resulted in more stringent legislation and control. New businesses started marketing on the basis of the integrity of their food.

“With the advent of the Common Agricultural Policy (fixed prices, subsidies, tariffs) in the 1970’s there were so many problems with fake wine and sugar going into Intervention (storage or waste) that the European Commission invested large amounts of money in anti-fraud activities.

“It is that legacy that is responsible for Europe being at the forefront of food authenticity and the food integrity agenda. So, perhaps not more fraud but a move from targeting the state, to targeting the consumer.”

Companies exhibiting at the event

Fera Science, formerly the Food and Environment Research Agency, is a joint private/public sector venture between Capita plc and Defra.

Employing more than 350 scientists, Fera analyses over 90,000 samples and publishes 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers per year.

The €12m Food Integrity project (2014–18) has 60 participants from 18 European countries and one from China.

There were 350 attendees from over 40 countries including South and North America, Africa and Asia at the annual conference earlier this month. Over 50 talks and 100 posters were presented at the event organised by Barilla, Università di Parma and Siteia.Parma.

While there is no formal definition of food integrity, the project uses“the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished or in perfect condition”.

“It is commonly used to encompass food safety, quality and authenticity attributes. Basically it is what it is labelled to be, what the consumer expects it to be – safe, of defined quality and meets the claims on the label,” added Brereton.

Findings from China survey and DNA barcoding of fish

Lynn Frewer of Newcastle University presented findings from a survey of 850 consumers from Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu in China.

Respondents were most concerned about deteriorated and adulterated food and least concerned about nutritionally imbalanced and GM modified food and drink.

Consumers regarded a tamper proof seal and a cert of authenticity as important cues of authenticity compared to information about where it was produced and packaged.

They said manufacturers and consumer organisations should be responsible for safe and authentic food and were less inclined to trust manufacturers.

The survey found a perceived lack of regulation, enforcement or manpower to enforce, punishment, transparency and communication as well as bribery/corruption and reactive rather than proactive concerns in a highly fragmented industry which is profit driven with little incentives to improve standards.

It found people would pay a premium for trustworthy and authenticity cues but transparent communication mechanisms are required to improve trust in regulators, regulations and the industry.

Miguel Angel Pardo Gonzalez from AZTI Tecnalia said fish is one of the most traded commodities with more than 1,700 species traded internationally and sometimes there is not an internationally or nationally agreed upon commercial name.

Dr Michele Suman of Barilla

Species substitution, use of additives not on labelling, use of illegal additives, selling frozen/thawed fish as fresh, packaging weight, false claims about origin, sustainability or other characteristics are types of fraud.

So far it has found a mislabelling rate of 31% in 179 samples taken from across the EU and in the majority of cases consumers were getting a less expensive fish than they thought.

Tuna, sole, hake and cod are the species most commonly substituted. Fish mislabelling was highest in catering, canteens and take away restaurants.

Initial results found mislabelling issues were high in Iceland, Spain, Finland and Baltic states but low in Slovenia.

Pardo also raised the sustainability implications of the findings in relation to bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna.

Project end in sight

When the project ends next year several activities will be sustained by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the website will be maintained for at least three years.

“I expect a lot of the research will be turned into operational solutions for government and/or industry, though in the most part that will be after the project ends,” said Brereton. 

“Finally we are already planning to maintain the FoodIntegrity conferences after 2018. They are unique in bringing together such an international audience combined with trans-disciplinary scientific solutions focused on food fraud.”

The project is brought together by the 21 work-package leaders and within four key themes (‘Evidence, Expertise, Innovation and Impact’).

Brereton said it has activities to ensure collaboration such as getting one team to present another’s work to the wider consortium without using PowerPoint.

“The project management team is very experienced at dealing with large numbers of participants from different cultures and who don’t have English as their first language,” he added. 

FoodIntegrity will be at RAFA 2017 with a demo corner looking at Citizen Science, Big Data, rapid methods and research addressing potential challenges.

FoodIntegrity research outputs will be presented at the ASSET 2018 Summit in Belfast in May next year and FoodIntegrity 2018 will take place in November 2018.

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