The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently published a background paper, “International and National Regulatory Strategies to Counter Food Fraud.” The publication describes the challenges and complexities of food fraud regulation, and also discusses the available international regulatory guidance and legal strategies for combatting food fraud. It also identifies and dissects different regulatory approaches to food fraud around the world and explores the role of the private sector in fighting food fraud.

The paper acknowledges that, although no common definition of food fraud exists, it can be defined as the intentional deception of consumers about the quality and/or contents of foods to obtain an undue advantage. The paper also highlights the complexities of modern food fraud that effective regulation must consider, including: 

  • A growing variety of food and ingredients that are susceptible to fraud and are traded internationally
  • Increasingly meandering and murky food supply chains
  • Public health threats becoming a global concern due to their expanding reach
  • Advancements in the sophistication of fraudulent activities
  • Online marketing and e-commerce providing new avenues for fraud
  • Expanding media coverage of food fraud scandals
  • Heightened consumer interest in food authenticity and integrity.

The paper notes FAO’s concern about the possibility of pandemic-driven food supply chain disruptions causing a rise in food fraud. The paper also recognizes that it is difficult to develop strategies and tools to regulate food fraud due to the scarcity of organized information about the extent and scope of food fraud worldwide. However, it is known that food fraud is always related either to the product itself or to the process of producing the food, and has the potential to negatively impact public health. 

The publication also outlines the available international regulatory guidance on food fraud, such as guidance by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, as well as national and regional legal strategies to combatting food fraud. FAO stresses the importance of organized cooperation at international and national levels in combatting food fraud due to its complex, global reach. Individual nations have established their own regulatory approaches to food fraud, including food safety and quality legislation, consumer protection legislation, criminal law, and contract law. The private sector has also begun self-regulating food fraud in some cases, but there remains vast untapped potential in this area.

FAO hopes that focusing on legal strategies will help build the coherency necessary to effectively address food fraud. The paper describes how stakeholders can optimally regulate food fraud through analysis, process orientation, and implementation, as well as consideration of the interrelationships between food fraud and public health, economic factors, and consumer interests. FAO also asserts that the optimal regulatory approach will depend on each nation’s existing framework and resources. Regardless of other factors, FAO insists that strategic cooperation between all levels of government and all points in food supply chains is crucial.