Stories of fake rice, fake eggs, and fake peas from China have been doing the rounds on social media for quite some time now. Other than a couple of reportings, there’s no mainstream evidence to these claims, and such incidents largely remain urban legends. However, the food fraud and fake food is everywhere around us.
Food Fraud – An Industry?
So strong is the lure of increasing profit margins that businesses have developed proper supply chains for procuring alternative food items. And they take advantage of the non-existent but mandatory checks in place, says the Food Safety Magazine: “The risks to food safety have never been higher. While food fraud is not new, the motivation to adulterate or counterfeit food for financial gain is growing, and thus new solutions are needed. While current food safety management systems are not always designed for fraud detection or mitigation, new food safety guidelines require it.”
The size of this “industry” is nothing to sneeze at, either. The Business Insider reported that back in 2016, the food fraud industry was worth $50 billion globally.
100% pure honey? Nah! Almost all of the products you see on the shelves are anything but pure. Honey sold in the markets either gets watered down or mixed with corn syrup (or worse, both) to reduce prices. And thanks to the low food standards in India, honey containing high levels of antibiotics is imported into the country. According to an India Today report, all major honey brands in India, and most of the minor ones, contain at least three types of antibiotics.
It’s not so bad in itself that manufacturers pass off other oils in the name of olive oil. Sometimes it’s peanut oil, sunflower oil, and sometimes, well, pure poison. For example, around 20,000 people paid the price for consuming fake olive oil in Spain that was actually rapeseed oil containing a toxin.
Silver foil on sweets (vark)
Silver foil-covered sweets are a common sight in India, except that it’s hardly pure silver. Rather, the sweet makers swap the silver for aluminium, which gives the same appearance and is considerably cheaper. Aluminum has an effect on numerous biological processes in the body. The exact mechanism of aluminum toxicity is, however, not fully understood. It is considered certain that aluminum is potentially cell- and neurotoxic. Enzyme activity may be disrupted and mitochondrial function may be impaired. Aluminum may also produce oxidative stress. In particular, three organ systems may be negatively affected by aluminum: the hemopoietic system, the nervous system and bones. It has also been suggested that aluminum may play a role in the occurrence of diseases such as breast cancer and Alzheimer’s dementia. And then there’s something worse – the use of bull’s freshly culled intestine for making these foils. Yes, you read that right; in order to create sheets that thin, bull’s intestines are used because they are highly elastic and are unaffected by repeated hammering. But the catch is that the intestines have to be freshly removed, as they become useless after the bull’s been dead for 24 hours. Just think about the cruelty involved!
One of the most beneficial herbs, saffron finds tons of fraud, thanks to its very high price. The saffron strands are mixed with marigold flowers, shredded dried onions, and corn silk to raise the weight.
This article has tried to avoid sensationalism by sticking to mainstream media and known facts, but the underbelly of fake food industry is much larger and more sinister. Meat from dead animals, chalk powder and melamine in milk, ghee made from vegetable oils, plastic rice . . . the list is endless.