Food Fraud: Walmart is Just the Latest to Face Accusations

I would like to wish all of our readers a happy new year. Many people make new year's resolutions, and they often include common-sense things like the following: Get more exercise. Stick to a budget. Focus on career growth. Eat right.

That last one … eating right. Sounds sensible, doesn't it? Many people are striving to do just that, looking carefully at what they select in the supermarket or grocery to try to make wise food choices. Often it is a matter of trust that the item we buy actually matches what is on the label. Unfortunately, as some high profile cases have shown, there is a wide-ranging problem of “food fraud” – and it might only be growing.

The Latest Case of Meat Swapping

The horse meat scandal in Europe was huge news in 2013, but we already have another major food scandal to start the new year. This time, it is Walmart that finds itself rocked by tainted meat allegations. In this case the global corporation stands accused of selling fox meat, which is lowly-regarded in China, falsely labeled as donkey meat (which is more desirable) in stores throughout the country. As reported by Bloomberg, Government officials in China contend that Walmart failed to properly inspect the meat, which came from a third-party supplier.

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While the facts of that allegation are not completely clear, it would appear that Walmart may be, at least to some degree, a victim of poor due-diligence practices concerning its relationship with a third-party meat supplier. If that is the case, it would be the same situation seen in the horse meat scandal and demonstrates the reputational and financial harm that can be caused by such an association. It's not the first problem of this nature for Walmart in China, and the situation will almost certainly result in fines and compensation to customers who were defrauded. The country is in a midst of push against the perception that it is lax in food regulations after a number of scandals have spread within, and outside of, its borders.

It's a Global Problem

The truth is, food fraud is everywhere. Just look at what comes from our oceans: the seafood industry is rife with intentionally mislabeled products and the problem is so serious that governments are taking specific action against it. According to a blog by the Huffington Post, in the U.S. last year, Congress introduced the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act to try to get a handle on the problem.

Along these lines, BBC One aired a special last year “revealing problems in all kinds of produce, from fish and chips to takeaway pizza. Plus, the high-end food fakery which saw supermarket food re-labelled as organic and sold at a premium; and frozen strawberries from China used to make exclusive and very expensive 'English strawberry jam'.”

To make matters worse, some experts see more food fraud epidemics on the horizon as world's population continues to increase and food shortages become more acute. An article in London's Evening Standard reported on warnings from the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) that “more food fraud scams like the horsemeat scandal could erupt amid growing competition for limited global supplies.”

So as we consider eating healthy during this new year, let us hope that more corporations make food inspections and proper due diligence one of their top resolutions this year. We all want to know that what we are eating is safe – and that it is what we paid for.