Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is your food un-COOL?

With the continuing acrimony over contaminated or dangerous products coming from China, it's perhaps not surprising that Consumer Advocacy Groups are demanding more information for shoppers, such as country of origin labeling, or COOL. Not so fast. Industry players such as food processors, packers and grocery chains are resisting the requirement to provide this information - claiming that it would be 'onerous'.

An amazing 82% of U.S. shoppers want to know their food's country of origin, according to a survey released in March by the consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch. And a Consumers Union survey in June found even stronger sentiment: 92% of respondents said imported-food labels should identify the country of origin.

This recent article in The Washington Post details the complex wrangling over several different bills, and the inconsistent application of COOL (e.g. fish vs. chicken vs. peanuts vs. produce).

Simultaneously, but independently, the Chinese authorities just announced a new mark, the CIQ mark, that will supposedly help consumers tell the difference between real and fake food.

The "CIQ" mark, which stands for China Inspection and Quarantine, guarantees that products have passed quality tests, according to a regulation unveiled by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).

It's not yet clear to us what would prevent the counterfeiter simply copying this mark... watch this space!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Questionable Virginity

article in this week's New Yorker magazine by Tom Mueller digs into the widespread problem of Italian olive oil adulteration - and downright counterfeiting. Lamp oil masquerades as 'extra-virgin', hazelnut oil as olive. As the number of food contamination and adulteration instances increases, this one is particularly interesting - as it has been going on for years ... thousands of years, in fact.

Amphorae from 211AD show evidence of extensive anti-fraud measures: each was painted with the exact weight of oil it contained, along with the name of the farm where the olives were pressed, the merchant who shipped the oil, and the official who verified this information before shipment.

So it seems that ePedigree and food traceability is not a new thing. In fact, it looks like the ancient Romans took more steps to prevent fraud that the Italians do today.