Consumerwatch: Food fraud
Is what you see or read on the package of your food really what you get?
The horse meat scandal in Europe has raised questions about the ground beef products found at your local grocer or butcher. However, food fraud isn’t just isolated to beef.
Every year, 11 million kilograms of fish pass through the Freshwater Fish Market Corporation plant in Winnipeg.
Thirteen different species are caught in lakes in western and northern Canada and carefully tracked with a barcode. They are then sent to plates across the world.
John Wood is the CEO of the Freshwater Fish Market Corporation. He says the barcode follows the fish all the way through the process, from delivery to the plant and all the way through the plant itself.
“It’s very difficult for any error to be made,” he said.
But that type of traceability isn’t everywhere. Recently, conservation group Oceana put 1,200 seafood samples from across the United States under the microscope.
DNA tests found about one third of the samples were mislabeled.
Kimberly Warner, the author of the report, said 84 per cent of the white tuna was escolar, which can cause acute and serious digestive effects after ingesting only a few ounces.
But food fraud isn’t just limited to meats. In 2009, two extra virgin olive oil importers in Ontario were hit with fines after they mislabeled their products as extra virgin when they contained 50 per cent sunflower oil.
Over the past two years, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested nearly 40 samples of olive oil. About 20 per cent of the products failed to meet international standards for olive oil or extra-virgin olive oil.
And if you think you’re buying Canadian wine because it says so on the bottle, you might want to read the fine print.
Mike Muirhead of Banville and Jones said, “Chile, Argentina, France, they can bring in all this wine (aged) in Canada, blended in Canada, and then it can carry the ‘cellared in Canada’ label. But none of the grapes could potentially be from Canada.”
Muirhead says he doesn’t include the “cellared in Canada” wines with those made solely with Canadian grapes, which carries a “VQA” label. The label means it’s a guarantee in Canada that the grapes came from Canada, said Muirhead.
The CFIA says it set out strict guidelines as to how food is labeled. The agency says your best line of defense against fraud is to ask restaurants or retailers to verify where their products are from.