Very little has been said, however, about the vigilant Belgian egg processor that first detected the banned insecticide Fipronil in eggs delivered to its plant. Had it not been for this company’s quality control system, then the distribution of tainted eggs would presumably have gone on for much longer and reached much further afield. An example of a food defence procedure that clearly works.

Of course, you could ask why hundreds of chicken farmers were not so vigilant: why they never raised an eyebrow when the natural treatment they used for red mite control was effective beyond all expectation. Why they didn’t question whether the treatment really was what it said on the label.

It’s anomalies like this that efficient horizon scanning detects and explores.


A watchful eye

Horizon scanning is an essential element of any food defence strategy. Prompted by the 2013 horsemeat scandal, the British Retail Consortium, one of the bodies recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was the first to add food defence to its recognised certification programmes. To achieve certification, all responsible food manufacturers must now keep an even more watchful eye on vulnerable areas of their supply chain that criminals could try to exploit.

Briefly explained, horizon scanning is the systematic checking of sources, such as the internet, government agencies, international organisations, industry forums and the news, for early signs of opportunities to adulterate raw material supplies – in other words, the potential for money-making fraud.


Three pillars of defence

In 2015, for example, the failure of India’s cumin crop was quickly targeted by fraudsters, who took advantage of rising prices by mixing cumin with ground peanut shell. Cases like this illustrate the three pillars of food defence, which horizon scanners use in their effort to understand how the criminal mind works.


How difficult is it to switch one raw material for another, add another cheaper raw material or enhance a product’s effect?


How easy is it to detect a switch, addition or enhancement?


How much money can be made?

If you can see the same opportunities for fraud that a criminal can, then you’ve already come a long way towards preventing a crime from taking place.

No food defence system will ever be completely failsafe. But, with today’s tight controls, tough certification standards and focus on transparency, it is worth noting that many problems are successfully nipped in the bud before they even get close to becoming a scandal. And that, although the Fipronil in egg case slipped through the first safety net, it was caught by the next.

What this latest scandal has taught us is that the food industry and food authorities still have work to do to build a safety net with a finer mesh. That’s essential to securing the food supply chain and keeping consumers safe.


No food defence system is fool proof. But, through diligent assessments, sharing of relevant information and monitoring ongoing situations, we can reduce risks to a minimum.


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Food fraud

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