In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible… Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness… the great enemy of clear language is insincerity. Where there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms...
Sustainable farming at the appropriate scale will become more and more important over time as people begin to realize that the modern food system is rife with fraud and abuse. Just like To Big To Fail mega banks exploited the credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and complex derivatives to hide the true quality of debt, Big Agriculture is doing exactly the same with our food supply. We are seeing more and more articles beginning to appear in the mainstream press that are picking up on it:
Behind the bomb-proofed doors of a laboratory in Northern Ireland, a short monotone bell rings: a warning that an electrical current is about to pass through the laser knife that Rachel Hill holds in her blue-rubber-gloved hand. Hill uses the laser knife to score a fillet of fish with a strange tattoo, leaving a burnt stripe. The bell rings again, and she makes another incision.
Next to her, a computer the size of a family fridge is analyzing the smoke that rises from the tasered tissue. Thanks to a process involving rapid evaporative ionization mass spectrometry (Reims), developed at Imperial College London, the computer can identify the smoke’s unique “molecular fingerprint”. This £500,000 machine, together with another £5m-worth of equipment in the Belfast-based
Institute for Global Food Security, have inspired the lab’s nickname “Star Trek”, as it boldly pushes technological frontiers in the battle against food crime. The only other Reims machine in the UK is at Charing Cross Hospital, London, where it is used by the oncology department to distinguish between healthy and malign tissue. Here, the machine is being asked to make a formal identification of the fish fillet: is it cod? Or is it something else?
At Queen’s University Belfast, where the institute was established in March 2013, food analysis is inching ever closer to forensic investigation. Fraud, adulteration and contamination can happen to almost any edible commodity that you care to think of. Or, more likely, that you care not to think of — not just beef burgers with a hidden equine component but staples such as fish, spices and fruit juices.
After comparing the fish’s “fingerprint” against a library of species profiles, the computer presents its verdict. This time it’s not guilty: “cod”, reads the screen. But just as often, such tests will reveal fraud — cod mixed with something cheaper, whiting perhaps, or a different species entirely.
Professor Chris Elliott, lead researcher at the Belfast-based Institute for Global Food Security, photographed near his office at Queen's University Belfast, where the Institute is based Professor Chris Elliott, the institute’s 56-year-old founder and an international expert on food integrity, puts it plainly: “What we eat and where it comes from, generally, we don’t know any more. It’s a very complex web. Every time you have a transaction [in the supply chain], there’s another opportunity to cheat.” And every week his lab picks up several cases of food fraud happening somewhere in the world. “If we think about Europe first of all,” Elliott says, “we pick up more and more reports now about the mafia getting involved in criminal activity in food. Part of that is because in other areas of criminal activity they’ve been involved in, they’ve been clamped down on.”
A passing colleague reminds Elliott that he has a pile of non-disclosure agreements to sign; Elliott nods his head ruefully. Samples sent to the institute for testing come from companies around the world, including the UK supermarket chains. Last year, for example, the institute surveyed dried oregano and found 25 per cent of the samples supplied from supermarkets, online retailers and corner shops contained substances other than oregano. Spinning on one of the high-tech screens is a mathematical representation of a new sample of
“oregano” dotted with different colours for its adulterant parts: olive, myrtle and hazelnut leaves, as well as sumac, phlomis and cistus. In a little tray on the lab worktop, the green flakes look perfectly innocent. A researcher tests another sample with a handheld device that could eventually be used in key audit points of supply chains. “[In Star Trek] we can do any type of sample and any type of extraction,” says Simon Haughey, senior research scientist.
When the institute does uncover fraud, it does not publicly disclose the source of the suspect samples. “We’d just be inundated with lawsuits,” Elliott says. “I’ve been threatened quite often.” The institute is monitored by 24-hour security — with food fraud as yet hard to bring to successful conviction, any refinement in methods of detection is a potential threat to organized crime. “Quite often when there are seminars about fraud, some of the audience will be fraudsters themselves, because they really want to know what the current state
of the art is.”
The complexity of supply chains means that it’s hard to pinpoint complicity: “If we found a fraudulent product in Tesco, I’d be 99.9 per cent certain they didn’t know about it,” says Elliott. “We’re not letting anyone get away with anything — we will tell the appropriate regulatory authority.”
Short supply chain from the soil to the table is the only true way to create a viable food system.
Of course we will be told that we need to create even more regulation to allow the Government to fix the problem:
WASHINGTON, April 8 (Reuters) - Honey mixed with sugar might be sweet, but it is not “honey.”
Food companies and other producers who add sweeteners to honey have to alert consumers labeling their products as a “blend,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday.
Only manufactures that do not add sugar, corn syrup or other sweeteners should label their products as pure “honey,” the FDA said in draft guidelines posted online.
The proposal aims “to advise the regulated food industry on the proper labeling of honey and honey products to help ensure that honey and honey products are not adulterated or misbranded,” the agency wrote.
Americans consume more than 400 million pounds of honey each year, according to U.S. government and industry estimates. But just 149 million pounds were produced in the United States last year, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed.
To feed America’s sweet tooth, much honey is imported, and U.S. producers are worried about cheap substitutes.
Pure honey is generally more expensive than those mixed with corn syrup and traditional sugar, and prices reached a record high of $2.12 a pound last year, according to the USDA.
The FDA’s review follows a petition from the American Beekeeping Federation and several other related groups seeking a standard U.S. definition for the natural sweetener to promote fair trade.
While the agency rejected their request, it said it was willing to look at labeling.
The FDA inspected imported honey to see whether it had been “adulterated” with corn or cane sugars. In recent decades, it detained honey containing such substitutes from countries such as Brazil and Mexico, according to the agency.
Manufacturers have 60 days to comment on the proposal before final guidelines are issued. Even then, however, guidelines are not mandatory. (Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Dan Gerber)
The part about highlighted above is laughable, labeling. As my Irish father in law use to say "Paper never refused ink." I guess the FDA thinks it does.
In the end the best system is where ether customers can directly hold the producers liable vs our long convoluted supply chain the allows individuals to absolve themselves of responsibility.