Economic adulteration sullies ingredient sector

One of my favorite publications is Food Safety Magazine (www.foodsafetymagazine). A March 2010 article by Markus Lipp, PhD, and James Griffiths titled "Food Defense in the Global Environment: The Role of Quality Standards" caught my attention for its prediction that economic adulteration is a growing concern, especially in the functional-ingredients sector. Here is an excerpt:

"The typical dinner plate consists not only of meat and vegetables but a host of other products, such as colorings, flavorings, preservatives, emulsifiers, thickeners — and the list goes on. Food ingredients are just as much a part of the modern diet as fresh foods, and securing their quality (which in turn impacts safety) is equally important. Compounding the increased consumption of these ingredients is a growing pressure to keep the prices of food products low. This pressure comes from food retailers, responding to pressure from consumers. Food is always a competitive business, but the current economic climate makes it even more acute — creating ideal conditions for economically motivated adulteration of ingredients."

This problem will persist especially as the economy continues to stagnate and price becomes all the more important. While it might be tempting to develop products at bare-bones cost, seldom does it work without leading to economic adulteration. In February, Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance, warned a group of FI editors that if manufacturers and retailers make decisions based on price alone, don't blame the ingredients vendor. "Be careful what you wish for," he said. "It's impossible to get a sustainable, organic, high-quality anything for a dollar a bottle."

The extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) industry is a good example. About a decade ago, grocers decided to bottle their own private-label brands. They mandated obscenely low bidding prices to vendors. Experts familiar with producing real EVOO said it was virtually impossible to produce even an average quality 100 per cent EVOO for the suggested wholesale price. Ethical vendors backed out. The Walmart buying approach led to a host of economically adulterated products from high end to bargain basement. Not only were these products not suitable to be called EVOO, they lacked the health properties attributed to good quality oils.

If better consumer health is the primary concern, then low cost at any cost won't suffice. The only way to stop the proliferation is for ingredients suppliers to speak up when negotiating for private-label brands. Lipp and Griffiths say that while food safety always trumps quality in regulatory oversight, the latter will become as important in the future. They suggest that a minimum standard be set to identify the quality and purity of food ingredients within the supply chain. One example in the article is Reb-A. Barely a year out of the gate, this sparkling new ingredient, with so much promise, is already a victim of economic adulteration. Read more on spiking and adulteration here.

As always, FI editors work hard to bring you the best, least-adulterated content. If keeping costs down, but quality high is your priority, see my article on sustainable supply chains and Mark J Tallon's on fermentation. Also Chris Kilham emerged recently from the jungle with some excellent botanicals that we believe will boost health and profits.

Fiscally and sincerely yours,

Kimberly Stewart
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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