Importance of Authentication & Traceability in Indian Food Value Chain - World Food Safety Day

Food fraud directly impacts our daily lives and poses a huge threat to our wellbeing.

To spread awareness about food safety and to reduce the cases of food borne diseases, World Food Safety Day (WFSD) is observed on 7th June 2020. In these challenging times of the COVID pandemic, the world needs a new era of smarter food safety. This crisis has created various challenges, but it is extremely important to discuss the problem of food fraud and the importance of authentication in Indian food value chain to counter it. 

Food fraud directly impacts our daily lives and poses a huge threat to our wellbeing. Food fraud incidents including tampering, adulteration, refilling, pilferage, diversion, and counterfeiting are not a new problem but quantifying the economic or public health impact of food fraud remains difficult. While seizure data is anecdotal and may only reflect crime prevention tactics, an overwhelming set of incidents and case studies indicates that food fraud is a growing trend. The annual estimated cost of food fraud is $30 billion to $40 billion across the globe. 

Understanding its seriousness, Interpol, together with Europol, has been conducting operation OPSON since 2011 targeting fake and sub-standard food and beverages. In the latest seizure conducted between December 2018 – April 2019, 78 countries took part in this and resulted in more than 67,000 checks carried out at shops, markets, airports, seaports, and industrial estates. 672 individuals were arrested, around 16000 tonnes and 33 million liters of likely fake food and drink worth Euro 100 million seized.

In India the scenario, the situation is not different. As per findings, the Food regulator analyses a total of 106,459 samples across the country and find over 15.8% food samples as sub-standard, 3.7% unsafe, and 9% mislabeled during the year 2018-19. It has been found that at least ten states in India are unequipped to ensure food safety, owing to scarcity of staff and food testing laboratory infrastructure. 

Why is food fraud increasing? 

Globalization, consolidation of manufacturing, urbanization, and other large-scale mass consumption trends may provide insights into why food fraud is growing. While global trade is increasing, owing to the complexities of the sector food system is decades behind in adopting technology innovations.  

The major food systems barriers include: 

Limited ability to shift consumer demand towards more nutritious and sustainable diets.

Inadequate infrastructure, information, and financial inclusion adversely affecting farmer productivity.

Lack of transparency along supply chains has resulted in a loss of consumer trust.

Reduce crop diversity generating both dietary and environmental consequences.

Lack of a holistic approach across adjacent sectors (including agriculture, health and environment) prevents policymakers and investors from making the right decision to improve food system.

How can India benefit?

Fundamentally, India requires more development in current national food laws, also there is an urgent need to adopt an effective traceability system to improve and change within the current food industry and food supply chain. There are various challenges which indeed to be addressed, such as enhancing visibility and transparency for food exports products, minimizing the risk of food safety issues such as certifications, agro-terrorism threat, reduction in food wastage and reducing product recall cost etc. Developing a strong traceability infrastructure can benefit Indian in many ways. 

As per the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) report, India lost 40% of its food during the supply chain. There are various reasons which enforce the adoption of authentication & traceability in the interest of the country. Authentication & Traceability could reduce the exposure to food outbreak risks by making it faster, more efficient, and more feasible to identify a source of food contamination precisely, thus containing the impact. Currently, these processes are time-intensive and costly. For example, the 2018 outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region took about three months to resolve and resulted in 210 individuals falling ill, 96 hospitalizations and five deaths. 

Food safety is everyone’s responsibility 

Food safety is everyone’s responsibility and all of us, including consumers, must work together to take on the critical task of building an environment for Food Safety Culture.  

While the industry, food producers, and aggregators are adopting technologies to support this function, a lot of onus falls on the consumer side also especially in the current scenario. So, what is to be done about this? All stakeholders need to become aware of the role they can play in developing the food safety ecosystem and actively contribute towards it.

In developed countries, traceability is not only a value-added practice for the supply chain, but it is also a law. In the European Union, since 2005, a traceability system has been obligatory for all food businesses. In the U.S.A, the Bioterrorism Act includes a similar requirement regarding tracing “one step forward and one step back” throughout the supply chain. The issue of food safety has been the leading cause for adopting such regulations.

Implementation of a traceability system by industry can be both voluntary and compulsory. The mandatory reason comes from legislation that ensures the establishment of security in the food chain. The voluntary one arises from the will of an organized and improved organization. However, developing countries such as India face significant obstacles in achieving enough traceability standards. They lack information and proper infrastructure to implement an effective traceability system that they perceive as costly. The industry and policymakers in the food industry can take references and benefit from tested solutions adopted by another industry sector, including Beverages, Liquor, and Pharmaceutical industry. Regulations on authentication and traceability are here to stay and the sooner enterprises in India start implementing a system for traceability the better it will be for them in the long term. Determination of food authenticity is a vital part of quality control. After all, authenticity is also a quality criterion and validation for food and food ingredients.


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