THE BLOG
22/10/2013 06:47 BST | Updated 20/12/2013 05:12 GMT

Food Fraud - Does it Stop at Horsemeat?

We are all too familiar with the terms food hunger, food poverty, processed food, real foods, healthy foods and functional foods. But what about the term food fraud? Unfortunately, courtesy of a certain horse meat scandal, food fraud is a term in the public arena. Fortunately, we're out on the other side of that particular scandal. But did you know that fraud could be happening at a slice of pizza near you?

Pizza Power

Let me talk about pizzas for one minute. What's not to like about pizzas - the meal eaten by peasants in Italy in 16th century, traded as street food in the US in the 19th century and now bought, frozen chilled, hot and boxed as a take away almost all over the world? Tasty, variety, quick and relatively cheap, it's a win win. In fact, I've been known (infrequently I must add) to reach for a phone to order my own.

And I am not alone. According to Nick Hood, business analyst in Company Watch, Domino's soaring sales (61 million pizzas with sales of £598 million sold in 2012) are proof of how focal the home pizza habit has become for cash-strapped, value conscious UK consumers. In fact the pizza has become the most popular ready made meal in the UK, taking over from shepherd's pie and roasts. Interestingly enough, trade magazine The Grocer throws more light on the subject stating that 'English food is seen as easier and cheaper to cook from scratch than other cuisines," which might explain why pizzas are the number one ready meal. Further more, they claimed that: "British food is also perceived to be less exciting." So fine to make up your own homemade bangers and mash, but if you're looking for takeaways, it's pizza time.

I can't think of any other recipe that has been adulterated, regionalised and transformed so much from its humble beginnings as the cheeseless pizza to its current state. Without checking a Domino's menu sheet or a supermarket chilled and frozen aisle I can name at least 20 variations of pizza. Here goes - thin base, thick, base, Margherita, Chicago deep crust, pepperoni, spicy chicken, Hawaiian (my favourite), extra cheesy and so on. I'm talking here different bases, fillings and toppings. With so many things going on a pizza, no wonder people are intimidated by the thought of making their own and this is where food fraud has the potential to rear its ugly head.

First of all, what is Food Fraud?

'Food fraud is committed when food is deliberately placed on the market, for financial gain, with the intention of deceiving the consumer.' The most common forms of food fraud are: the sale of food that is potentially harmful (i.e. recycling of animal by-products back into the food chain or knowingly selling goods which are past their 'use by' date) and the deliberate misdescription of food, such as (making false statements about the source of ingredients, i.e. their geographic, plant or animal origin). Food fraud may also involve the sale of meat from animals that have been stolen and/or illegally slaughtered.

Check out the Food Standards Agency for more information.

So what does this have to do with Pizzas?

Well only this article that I read that claims that ingredients sourced from 60 different countries were found in one pizza! It might be taking the mantra 'world food fusion' too far. Food safety testers investigating the recent horsemeat scandal found no less than 35 ingredients from flour to cheese to ham to have come from five different continents. The pizza however was labelled Country of Origin Ireland. The label transferred trust from processor to consumer - whether it was the chicken, the ham, the onions or the cheese, the consumer connected with Ireland.

The issue, regardless if the labelling is truly fraudulent or not, is the fact is that it is impossible to verify the origins of processed food eaten in one country. The origin of food is necessary to aid in the monitoring and regulating of the long international food supply chain.

Why do some food processors source ingredients (components) from different nations, when most can be sourced in one or two countries? Simple - profit. The cheaper the components, the cheaper the cost of producing the product, the more it will sell. As with everything, it's all about supply and demand. The consumer demands cheap food and the supplier wants profit.

So food fraud, in some form, could be happening everywhere around you. Until we address the issue of good food not cheap food for all, food fraud has the potential to be rife.

For now, maybe think about trying out my homemade pizza. At least you know where it comes from. I promise it's not that hard to make.