NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 1, 2010

Food fraud has been happening since Roman times, but it is getting new attention as more products are imported and a tight economy heightens competition.  John Spink, an expert on food and packaging fraud at Michigan State University, estimates that 5 percent to 7 percent of the U.S. food supply is affected but acknowledges the number could be greater.  

The job of ensuring that food is accurately labeled largely rests with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  But it has been overwhelmed in trying to prevent food contamination, and fraud has remained on a back burner, says the Washington Post. 

The recent development of high-tech tools -- including DNA testing -- has made it easier to detect fraud that might have gone unnoticed a decade ago.  The techniques have become so accessible that two New York City high school students, working with scientists at the Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History last year, discovered after analyzing DNA in 11 of 66 foods bought randomly at markets in Manhattan were mislabeled. 

Many food manufacturers, importers and retailers are testing products internally, but some are still deceived:

  • Heinz USA and Kraft Foods fell victim to "Operation Rotten Tomato," a conspiracy in which the scion of a California farming dynasty was indicted this month; he was accused of disguising millions of pounds of moldy tomato paste as a higher-grade product and selling it to food makers.
  • E&J Gallo, the nation's largest wine seller, sold 18 million bottles of Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir between 2006 and 2008 that had been filled in France with wine made from cheaper merlot and syrah grapes.
  • One longtime crabmeat seller on the Chesapeake Bay said he has complained, without result, to the FDA for years about a competitor who imports cheap crab and repackages it as Chesapeake blue crab, a different species that can be sold for two or three times the price. 

Source: Lyndsey Layton, "FDA pressured to combat rising 'food fraud,'" Washington Post, March 30, 2010. 

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues