Study reveals spice sector's exposure to fraud

The ease of adulterating spices combined with the complexity of fraud detection makes the condiments highly vulnerable to fraud, a scientific study has found.

Published in the journal Food Control, the research examined fraud vulnerabilities of eight companies in the spices supply chain using the SSAFE food fraud vulnerability assessment tool, which comprises 50 indicators categorised in opportunities, motivations, and control measures to provide a fraud vulnerability profile.

The research, conducted by Wageningen University and Research in The Netherlands, found that spices had a high vulnerability to fraud when it came to the ease of adulteration, complexity of fraud detection, the high competition level in the sector, and the high perceived value of spice in terms of the economic drivers to commit fraud.

Meanwhile, opportunities associated with the transparency of a company’s supply chain and fraudulent incidences in the past were judged as giving spices a medium vulnerability to fraud, and cultural/behavioural factors such as ethical business culture were considered to contribute to fraud vulnerability to a lesser extent.

Looking at the full results, the researchers concluded that the various actors perceived the level of food fraud vulnerability in the spices chain as medium vulnerable.

“Food fraud scandals and issues in the last few years have reinforced the need to understand the vulnerability to fraud in food chains. The food industry is generally vulnerable to crime and the spice industry is mentioned as one of the most vulnerable ones,” the researchers said.

“In general, herbs and spices represent an attractive category for potential offenders, because the products have a high value by weight and consumers have a limited capacity to detect adulteration. Ground spices are particularly prone to adulteration, because the milling or grinding step changes the shape of both the spice and adulterant to a powder, which makes it difficult to detect adulterants in the final product.”

According to an Interpol operation last year, condiments including spices are the most faked and illicitly traded food products, with 66 per cent of seizures found to be counterfeit condiments.

In 2014, ground peanut shells were discovered in powdered cumin, leading to a major recall because of the allergenic properties of the peanut material. Investigations revealed that fraudulent activity and not accidental contamination was behind the incident, driven by the motivation of economic benefit through the addition of cheaper bulk material to the premium quality cumin.

The SSAFE food fraud vulnerability assessment tool used in the research is based on the premise that three key elements are required for a food crime to take place: a suitable target, a motivated offender, and the absence of guardianship (control measures). The overall principle of the tool is reflected in the formula: opportunities x motivations x control measures = actual fraud vulnerability.

“So, more opportunities and motivations will increase fraud vulnerability, whereas control measures can counteract these vulnerabilities,” the researchers said, adding that potential opportunities, motivations, and control measures for food fraud are assessed related to both the internal organisation and the external environment of the company.

An example of opportunities-related fraud factors of raw material and final product include indicators such as the complexity of adulterating spices and whether the technology to adulterate is common knowledge or complex.

Meanwhile, the control measures are divided into soft and hard. Hard control measures, which are observable and can be tested, affect the ‘hard’ aspects of an organisation such as planning, control, tasks and responsibilities. Soft controls, on the other hand, are non-tangible behaviour influential factors in an organisation, which influence the motives, loyalty, integrity, inspiration, norms and values of employees.

The researchers noted that although it is the governments’ responsibility to set clear legal requirements it is the responsibility of the industry to mitigate food fraud risks. However, the research found that there was a high vulnerability and low levels of control measures in many incidences, indicating that fraud specific measures are lacking or are at a very basic level, particularly in smaller sized companies.

None of the companies were involved in criminal offences giving themselves a rating of low vulnerability to fraud but the companies assigned their suppliers and customers with a medium vulnerability ranking to fraud because they lacked concise information.

“This kind of fraud vulnerability study allows comparison of the vulnerability of different supply chains. Furthermore, the fraud vulnerability assessments of individual actors are a solid base for further development of the companies’ fraud mitigation plans,” the researchers concluded.

Related articles:

     Want our news sent directly to your inbox?

Yes please 2


Home  |  About us  |  Contact us  |  Advertise  |  Links  |  Partners  |  Privacy Policy  |   |  RSS feed   |  back to top