French study finds drop in spice fraud, but not by enough

A survey of spice fraud by the French government has uncovered only half as many labelling anomalies as a study conducted three years earlier.

The sampling study by the General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) was conducted between July and October 2019 and focused on herbs and spices known to be at risk of fraud, including pepper, paprika and chili, cumin, turmeric, saffron and oregano.

Researchers visited 219 retail establishments – including producers, importers, distributors, and online retailers – and took 138 samples that were analysed by French and EU labs to try to find unauthorised ingredients, or evidence of ingredients not on the label.

The proportion of outlets selling mislabelled products or adulterated products fell from 50% in 2016, when the last DGCCRF survey was carried out, to 26% in 2019.

That's an improvement, but according to the agency still shows that it is necessary to be vigilant about food fraud and make further efforts to stamp out the illicit trade in herb and spice products.

The sampling study was part of an initiative implemented by the European Commission to introduce a control plan for spices, in order to verify the quality of spices and aromatic herbs placed on the market and to look for possible fraudulent practices in the sector.

Among the evidence of deceptive activity was the use of style or stamens as partial substitutes for the stigmas for saffron, the presence of crushed stalks in paprika, and the use of unlicensed dyes as artificial colours.

There was also non-compliance with labelling rules – for example the use of the word "pepper" for products other than Piper nigrum peppercorns – and examples where spices fraudulently claimed to be protected designation of origin (PDO) products.

The spice most commonly associated with fraud was saffron – the most expensive spice in the world – with only 15 per cent of samples found to be compliant with regulations.

"The DGCCRF will continue to be vigilant about the quality of the spices and aromatic herbs sold, and will carry out additional surveys of this nature, in order to assess the evolution of the market situation of these products," said the agency in a statement.

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