Combatting Food Fraud through Transparency

April 28, 2022
Combatting Food Fraud through Transparency

The following is a guest contribution from Sarela Herrada, the co-founder of SIMPLi (Instagram: @eatsimpli).

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is shining a renewed light on the underlying cracks in the international supply system’s foundation, this issue has been unfolding for decades. As farming necessity and market demands increase, so does the supply system’s risk of food fraud. The international supply system has become so extensive that it has made it increasingly difficult for manufacturers to track the origins of raw materials. However, as focus shifts toward the shortcomings of our food system we have an opportunity to rebuild it in a more transparent, equitable, and interconnected manner.

Food fraud can take many forms, but most broadly it is the misleading of consumers about the origins or production of the ingredients and products they’re buying.

More specifically, food fraud may be perpetrated by:

  • substituting one product for another
  • using unapproved enhancements or additives
  • misrepresenting something (e.g.: country of origin)
  • misbranding or counterfeiting
  • stolen food shipments
  • intentional contamination with a variety of chemicals, biological agents or other substances harmful to private or public health

Food fraud has increased as the food supply has become more globalized because supply systems are growing more complex and more fragmented as a result. This means that it’s easier for fraudsters to take advantage of food companies and harder to detect cases of adulteration. It also means that smaller-scale producers who are implementing regenerative and sustainable practices are being undercut in the market by large-scale producers who can sell their fraudulent ingredients for much less.

Food fraud has cost consumers an estimated $30 to $40 billion every year from the global food industry.

One of the most common subjects of food fraud is olive oil with upwards of 70-80% of bottles sold commercially being fraudulent. What may be labeled as “organic” or “single origin” is often substituted with a lower-cost alternative and sold at a premium price point.

SIMPLi strategy for eliminating fraudulent activity in the supply system is to build sourcing transparency on a global level. Unlike traditional importers and brokers, SIMPLi works directly with farmers to ensure each product meets the strictest quality standards.

Diverse sourcing is a key component in building a decentralized supply system that integrates both big and small businesses.

We have seen the flaws of the food system concentrated among too few players with little to no insight into their supply. A vertical supply system is crucial for developing an equitable, transparent, and resilient supply system. This will have the added benefit of enabling small farmers to have access to the market and be fairly rewarded for their regenerative efforts.

SIMPLi works with farmers that use regenerative, organic agricultural practices. Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.

The Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) ensures that the products and ingredients being purchased are organic and regenerative.

The cost for Regenerative Organic Certification is around $12,000, which is a significant investment for an individual farmer. This is why SIMPLi covers the cost of certification for a cooperative, which can have up to 280 farmers, and purchases exclusively from them.

Indigenous farming practices are some of the most sustainable in the world.

SIMPLi works with farmers who are already implementing practices that meet 90% of the ROC standards. Further, in order to push farmers to reach 100%, SIMPLi helps them with access to education and finances.

To date, SIMPLi’s Regenerative Organic practices and certification has helped reduce food fraud in the international supply chain by over 1 million pounds since SIMPLi’s product introduction to the market.

SIMPLi’s fully vertical supply system ownership and traceable technology development allows the brand to follow the product’s journey from farmer to customer.

Courtesy of SIMPLi

Using sensory technology, every container is sealed with uniquely coded traceable locks. Because this lock is kept on the container from country of origin to arrival, SIMPLi is able to track the product from the beginning to the end of the supply system using GPS and sensor technology. The unique identifier lock that the container is sealed with can only be accessed by government officials and the SIMPLi team upon destination. Therefore, SIMPLi has full control of the inventory from farm to export. This radically transparent model shows exactly what phase of the supply system each product is in, while also tracking quality metrics within the products.

Technology for Transparency

Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of food companies to foster and enforce increased transparency in their supply systems. Although working directly with producers is ideal, it’s not possible for every organization right away – which is why the work of HowGood is so important. When a brand or food company is operating within a highly complex supply system, it can be very difficult to fully understand where ingredients are coming from, and how they’re produced. Helping organizations identify regenerative producers and suppliers will be critical in building the vertical supply systems we need to shore up the global food system.

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