Article: Farm Fakes: A History of Fraudulent Food

Fake food has plagued mankind for centuries; next to prostitution, historians consider counterfeiting the world’s second oldest profession. But food fakery these days is vastly more complex, and much harder to trace than in the past. Like our food system, food fakes span the globe. In today’s market, wheat gluten adulterated with melamine finds its way from China into “all natural” pet food in the United States, killing thousands of cats and dogs. A man sells synthetic fake organic fertilizer to the country’s largest organic farm, leaving many consumers wondering if their organic spinach is true to its “certified organic” label. A red snapper at a suburban New York Whole Foods, scientists discover, is actually a much smaller, poorer fish. “Fish is moved out of the water anywhere in the world, and it can be in a retail store in the United States within 48 hours,” said John Spink, associate director of the Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection Program at Michigan State University. “There’s probably no more fraud per capita or per person today than there was in ancient Roman times. There’s just more people now. And it’s multiplied because of globalization and manufacturing.” In 2009, China executed two men and sentenced a top dairy executive to life in prison for their roles in a tainted milk scandal that killed at least six children. In fake food or medicine cases, Chinese criminal law requires a maximum sentence of death if “death is caused to another person or especially serious harm is done to human health.” But China’s oversight of food systems is inconsistent. Enforcement is still a largely local – not centralized – affair, leading some legal experts to believe that corruption in local government has hampered China’s food safety efforts. For all of the current regulation, the United States has a food blind spot: mislabeling products in this country can be a winning (and legal) sales strategy. Journalists have found endless examples of manufacturers marketing food as something it’s not. For instance, most cinnamon sold in the United States is actually cassia. In Europe, selling anything called champagne is illegal unless it came from Champagne, France, but in the United States such labels are rampant. Although until recently, Japanese meat was not allowed entry into the United States, culture critic Larry Olmsted said many restaurants continued to claim they served Kobe beef, an expensive and rare delicacy.


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