You May Be Eating Counterfeit Food

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As much as 10 percent of everything from vodka to chocolate may be tainted with fake, substitute or filler ingredients to boost profits.

International crime rings are putting things in our food.

Sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that’s what The New York Times is reporting.

One expert named Shaun Kennedy told the newspaper that an estimated 10 percent of the food purchased in the developed world has been tampered with in some way. We’ve heard of fishy fraud and horse meat burgers, but that may be just the tip of an iceberg.

European Union police have found evidence the practice is widespread and organized, the Times says. Criminals may purchase expensive processing equipment for their operations and imitate original packaging.

Kennedy says because profit margins on most food are so small, even diluting real products by 2 percent can make a significant difference. It’s also often hard to detect. This kind of counterfeiting and tampering costs an estimated $10 billion to $15 billion a year, he says.

“In a weeklong food fraud crackdown last year, the French authorities seized 100 tons of fish, seafood and frogs legs whose origin was incorrectly labeled; 1.2 tons of fake truffle shavings; 500 kilograms, or 1,100 pounds, of inedible pastries; false Parmesan cheese from America and Egypt; and liquor from a Dutch company marketed as tequila,” the Times says.

It could be nonfood products, too — things we rarely, if ever, hear are counterfeited. Fake brand-name condoms, detergent and cosmetics are mentioned. But the things we might consume pose the most serious risks.

Fake vodka in Britain, for instance, was found to contain bleach used to lighten the color and high levels of methanol. High doses of methanol could cause blindness, the Times says. Engine oil has been found in olive oil, it says.

Cheaper substitutes and filler are common, such as vegetable oil added to chocolate or ground peanuts added to almond powder. Unannounced substitutions could be a risk for those with allergies and food sensitivities.

Stacy Johnson

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