Canadian Pizza Magazine

Features In the Kitchen Ingredients
from the editor’s desk: December 2011

Counterfeit food


December 2, 2011
By Laura Aiken


Topics

Where there is opportunity there is illegality. Such is the conundrum of
the human condition that it allows for a flourishing knock-off market.

Where there is opportunity there is illegality. Such is the conundrum of the human condition that it allows for a flourishing knock-off market. Unfortunately, counterfeit products are far from limited to fake Louis Vuitton purses and imitation Rolexes. These days, you can go so far as to buy a knock-off Porsche or “Fauxrari” from a garage in Bangkok.

Or, you can be an unknowing victim of a can of San Marzano tomatoes that are actually remanufactured from Chinese tomato paste. Your extra-virgin olive oil could be mostly made of soybeans. You could be left with nothing but your ego’s special mix of anger and embarrassment that it reserves for when it has been duped, should you ever learn the truth. If food fraud isn’t on your radar, it ought to be. One ought to be spared the nasty spoil of fake taste left in the mouth.
In 2010, the Italian news media covered a series of tomato scandals involving fraudulent “Made In Italy” labels, manipulated expiration dates (yuck), fake San Marzano DOP emblems and even labels falsely identifying products as organic. Some of these seizures turned up cans with copies of legitimate DOP registration numbers. Scary stuff.

We’re heading into 2012 and I’d bet my bottom dollar the imitation tomato folks are still busy churning out cans of false providence. The demand for inexpensive food certainly isn’t waning. However, the marriage of cheap and high quality should alert even the most benign of skeptics. You get what you pay for (although there is a case to be made that with many luxury brands you are getting the bill for their big-bucks ad campaigns, as there is only so high the price of making a T-shirt could possibly go). Or, you get sold a lie, as with the infamous reports of tilapia being passed off as red snapper at sushi restaurants, a problem well documented here and in the United States.

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Food fraud is traditionally defined as adulterating a product for economic gain, lacking the intention of making anyone sick. However, lack of intent does not necessarily mean lack of consequence. Should your olive oil be adulterated in such a way that it is mixed with a nut oil, someone with a nut allergy could get seriously sick. It is sad that we cannot trust the food supply chain absolutely. But it is a fact.

In 2007, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report on counterfeit and piracy that noted a shift in counterfeit production from high-value luxury items to more common products. The variety of items being misrepresented was also growing. It is getting more difficult to be sure of our products as the illegal networks grow, fuelled in part by the proliferation of the ubiquitous Internet.

We’ll look at this issue in more depth in 2012, along with other developments on the fraud frontier.

In the meantime, it’s food for thought as we sign off on another year in pizza. We’ll be announcing our 2012 Chef of the Year and runner-up in mid-December. As well, you can find details on our third annual Pizza with Purpose Award sponsored by Saputo on page 14. We’ll have an online application for that award in 2012 to make participating in our celebration of pizza giving even easier. Best wishes for merriment this holiday season from all of us at Canadian Pizza. We’ll see you in the new year! 


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