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Food Fraud Annual Report 2021 to 2022

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Executive summary

As part of its food fraud initiative, during fiscal year 2021 to 2022, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted a number of activities to prevent, detect and deter food fraud. This report summarizes these activities.

These are some highlights of that work:

  • monitoring ongoing and emerging risks, and planning mitigation activities
  • promoting awareness and educating consumers via an advertising campaign and other work
  • working with international counterparts to share relevant information and best practices
  • advancing research and method development to detect food fraud
  • targeting surveillance on higher-risk commodities and taking control actions and enforcement actions where warranted when CFIA found non-compliance

Surveillance during this period included inspecting, sampling and testing for authenticity and misrepresentation of fish, honey, meat, olive oil, other expensive oils and spices. CFIA did targeted surveillance on these commodities at different types of food establishments, including importers, domestic processors and retailers.

CFIA collected 844 targeted samples to detect specific types of misrepresentation. The following percentages of analyzed samples were found to be satisfactory:

  • fish 92.7%
  • honey 77.5%
  • meat 99.1%
  • olive oil 86.9%
  • other expensive oils 64.3%
  • spices 90.8%

The testing results summarized in this report are not representative of overall compliance rates within the Canadian marketplace because this sampling targeted products at higher risk for non-compliance. Such targeting can result in figures that appear unusually high within the context of the overall marketplace.

Where CFIA found non-compliance, it took control actions and enforcement actions where warranted, guided by the Standard Regulatory Response Process. These actions included removing products from Canada, detention, destruction, or relabelling.

Introduction

Food fraud is a priority under the Food Policy for Canada. As part of this initiative, the CFIA is addressing food misrepresentation through strategies to prevent, detect and deter food fraud that falls within its mandate. Health Canada works with CFIA on this initiative as well. For the purpose of this report, CFIA work on food misrepresentation within its mandate is collectively referred to as "food fraud."

Food fraud may occur when food is misrepresented, and is an emerging issue around the world. In Canada, it is generally prohibited to sell food in a manner that is false or misleading, but such misrepresentation may still occur. This may impact buyers because they would not be receiving what they expect to be buying. It can also pose health risks if, for example, allergens or non-permitted ingredients are added to food products but not declared.

Addressing food fraud supports consumer confidence that food purchased in Canada is accurately represented and safe to consume. It also helps Canadian businesses compete more fairly in the Canadian and global marketplace.

Note that this report covers the Government of Canada's 2021 to 2022 fiscal year, from April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

Prevent, detect, and deter

The food system in Canada is based on industry's responsibility for safe food and compliance with applicable legislation, and CFIA regulatory oversight of this system. These oversight activities centre around three themes: prevent, detect and deter.

This report summarizes the work done under each of these themes.

Prevent

For the purpose of this report, prevention means proactively taking measures to avoid the misrepresentation of food that is sold in Canada or exported from Canada. Such measures include:

  • maintaining regulatory requirements
  • providing guidance
  • planning risk control measures
  • engaging with stakeholders to promote compliance and raise awareness

Acts and regulations

Legislative requirements are the foundation of preventive measures that protect Canadians from food safety and misrepresentation risks. Canada is a leader in safe and reputable food, and its regulatory framework is highly regarded internationally. CFIA carries out inspection, sampling, testing and enforcement activities under the following authorities:

CFIA enforces these laws and works to protect consumers from food fraud. Prohibitions against deceptive practices and misrepresentation apply to food at all levels of trade in Canada, and are outlined in subsection 5(1) of the Food and Drugs Act and subsection 6(1) of the Safe Food for Canadians Act.

Additional provisions support this legislation, such as labelling requirements and compositional standards for a number of commodities.

Regulated parties are ultimately responsible for complying with regulatory requirements.

Risk intelligence, analysis and program design

CFIA conducts a variety of activities to monitor, analyze and track food fraud events reported domestically and globally. CFIA produces monthly environmental scanning reports, and monitors various sources of information to gain situational awareness of Canadian and global food fraud events. These sources are reported in open media and gathered from publicly available information provided by foreign competent authorities. This intelligence gathering contributes to foresight and to identifying emerging risks.

In 2021 to 2022, as in previous years, CFIA used this information to plan activities to prevent, detect and deter food misrepresentation in Canada. In addition to these proactive efforts, CFIA also does responsive work such as acting upon and following up on complaints or reported incidents.

Promoting awareness

CFIA actively raises awareness about food fraud in Canada. During 2021 to 2022, CFIA ran an online advertising campaign to:

  • inform consumers about what food fraud is and the forms it may take
  • encourage consumers to report suspected incidents of food fraud

The campaign, which targeted consumers in Canada responsible for purchasing food for their household, yielded more than 3.7 million impressions (impressions means the number of times the advertisements were viewed).

The online ads directed the audience to a campaign web page providing information about what food fraud is, how food fraud impacts consumers, and where to report a food complaint or concern. The page also highlighted CFIA's role and industry's role in preventing food fraud in Canada. During the time period covered by this report, the CFIA's food fraud web pages received more than 25,000 views.

CFIA's social media channels share information to build awareness about food fraud. CFIA's social media posts on food fraud received 34,348 impressions (impressions means the number of times the post was displayed to users) and 651 engagements (such as likes, shares, comments and clicks).

Media outreach helped increase awareness of food fraud in Canada. A video, three articles, and a radio spot were released in March 2022, aimed at informing Canadian consumers about the impact of food fraud, as well as what they can do if they suspect their food is mislabelled or misrepresented. These communication products were picked up by more than 80 media outlets with a collective reach of approximately 9.7 million people.

Communications outreach results

Social media impressions
34 000+

Web page views
25 000+

Ad campaign impressions
3.7 million+

Media outreach reach
9.7 million+

Compliance promotion

A variety of compliance promotion products related to the acts and regulations that are administered and enforced by the CFIA are available to help industry understand and follow requirements that apply to them. These include the industry labelling tool, traceability interactive tool, the Automated Import Reference System, and industry guidance for combatting food fraud.

Collaboration and engagement

To improve its ability to address food fraud, CFIA works with stakeholders such as consumers, industry, domestic and international organizations, as well as foreign competent authorities similar to CFIA. This engagement plays an important role in prevention.

Consumers

CFIA conducted public opinion research in 2021 to 2022, surveying 1000 Canadians and holding 10 online focus groups with a mix of consumers. Of those surveyed, more than a quarter of respondents reported being aware of food fraud. After hearing about food fraud, the majority of respondents were interested in finding out more, including how it affects them.

CFIA offers food labelling tools to help consumers better understand food labels and Canadian labelling requirements. If consumers have a safety concern, such as an unlabelled allergen, or have reason to believe a food label is false or misleading, they can report it to the CFIA.

Industry and academia

CFIA promotes compliance with food regulatory requirements by actively engaging with industry stakeholders, associations and regulated parties. In 2021 to 2022, CFIA engaged with a number of industry associations about what it is doing to prevent food fraud, industry's role in that, and areas for collaboration.

This included meeting with associations representing various sectors such as:

  • Canadian Health Food Association – webinar
  • Canadian Honey Council
  • Canadian Meat Council
  • Canadian Spice Association
  • Canadian Supply Chain Food Safety Coalition
  • Fisheries Council of Canada
  • Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada
  • Food Processors of Canada
  • Retail Council of Canada

CFIA also worked with American Oil Chemists' Society, Health Canada, McGill University and the University of Saskatchewan to participate in a panel on food fraud.

Federal government

Health Canada supports CFIA by addressing health and safety risks that result from food misrepresentation. In addition to providing health risk assessments and scientific advice, Health Canada also conducts environmental scanning to gather data on existing and emerging potential health risks relating to food fraud, and shares these with CFIA to inform risk management approaches. These activities are funded by the investment under the Food Policy for Canada.

CFIA works with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to address products that are improperly declared and misrepresented. CBSA shares intelligence and information on commodities imported into Canada. The CFIA uses incoming shipment data shared through an electronic interface (Single Window Initiative – IID) with the CBSA, as well as CFIA's own internal tools and expertise, to screen and identify shipments going to higher risk importers. This helps CFIA prioritize where to focus its efforts.

The CFIA has been working to further strengthen its approach to protecting consumers from fish mislabelling and species substitution, which are related to food fraud. In 2021, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, CFIA sought feedback on these and other topics during a public consultation. The What we heard report provides a summary of the feedback received. CFIA is in the process of identifying short, medium and longer term initiatives that fall under its role, to respond to what we heard from stakeholders during the consultations. More information will be communicated once available.

International

CFIA continues to work closely with international groups to improve its ability to address food fraud. Such groups include many foreign competent authorities (that is, regulatory bodies similar to the CFIA) and internationally recognized organizations. This engagement plays an important role in prevention.

CFIA implemented a pilot project to engage the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/the World Health Organization (WHO) International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) members in the area of food fraud and food authenticity risks. The purpose was to inform best practices in setting risk management priorities and communications. In 2021 to 2022, the information received by CFIA's international colleagues was summarized and shared within the CFIA and INFOSAN members to inform food fraud risk management.

Along with many other countries, CFIA participated in INTERPOL's (International Criminal Police Organization) Operation OPSON XI. OPSON is an annual operation that aims to remove counterfeit and substandard food and drinks from the marketplace.

CFIA also led Canada's participation in the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems working group dedicated to food fraud. The objective of this working group is to develop new international guidance for authorities and industry on preventing and controlling food fraud, in order to protect the health of consumers and support fair practices in the food trade. This year, Canada provided significant technical input on the first draft of this new guidance document.

Detect

For the purpose of this report, detection is the active determination of food fraud occurring. CFIA detects food fraud through activities such as inspecting, reviewing documentation and records, sampling and testing.

Methodology research and development

To keep pace with evolving scientific techniques and the abilities of non-compliant regulated parties to evade detection of food fraud, CFIA and Health Canada are developing new analytical methods to detect food fraud and product misrepresentation. They are also improving current methods.

Each year, CFIA identifies gaps in available techniques to detect food fraud, often related to emerging issues, and develops research needs and priorities. In the period covered by this report, the following research was underway:

  • meat speciation: enhancing the ability to identify and quantify meat species adulteration/substitution in cooked and uncooked products using a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) based analytical protocol
  • tuna speciation: continuing research, method development and validation of DNA barcoding for tuna
  • vanilla authenticity: updating and validating the liquid chromatography and stable isotope ratio analysis methods to differentiate between synthetic and natural vanilla extracts, including adulteration of natural vanilla extract with artificial extract

CFIA explored the use of an enhanced infrared spectroscopy method as a rapid method of detecting sugar adulteration in coconut water. Because of its popularity, coconut water has recently become a target for adulteration, which typically involves diluting to increase volume and adding sugars to mimic its natural sweetness.

CFIA conducted research on an innovative finger-printing approach to apple and grape juice profiling. This methodology has the potential to detect misrepresentation by determining the juice profile of mixed juices and reconstituted or fresh orange juice. This study is published in the journal of American Chemistry Society Food Science & Technology.

As part of the food fraud work under the Food Policy for Canada, Health Canada is leading two multi-year research projects to develop methods using proteomics in combination with bioinformatics and small-molecule analysis in combination with chemometrics for food authenticity.

  • The proteomics project will develop non-targeted and targeted methods of analysis using mass spectrometry and bioinformatics to detect and identify exogenous proteins in foods, with the initial focus on ground spices
  • The small-molecule chemometrics project will develop metabolomic and chemometric tools for non-targeted and targeted analysis for food authentication, with a focus on beverages

In both types of analysis, the protein profile and small-molecule profile will provide fingerprints of authentic foods that can be used to compare samples and test authenticity through non-targeted analysis. Markers of authentic foods and common substitutions or additions would be developed into rapid targeted methods for food authenticity. Data collected from protein and small molecule profiles will provide a comprehensive picture of potential contaminations.

Import controls and verification of organic products

During 2021 to 2022, CFIA continued to update the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) to capture more information about how organic products are entering Canada. This improvement involves incorporating the Canada Organic Regime import requirements, as per part 13 of the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. New codes and import requirements for fresh fruits and vegetables, processed fruit or vegetable products (for example, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables), honey, maple, processed egg products and shell eggs, some seeds and grains, and some dairy products have been incorporated into AIRS since 2019. Importers and import brokers will also be required to declare organic product certification as codes are added.

Surveillance: inspection, sampling, testing, and results

Misrepresentation deceives consumers and creates an unfair playing field for businesses that comply with regulatory requirements. CFIA inspects, samples and tests commodities that may be susceptible to being misrepresented. This work to detect potential food fraud is called surveillance.

The test results summarized in this report are for sampling that is targeted at areas of higher risk and are not representative of overall compliance rates within the Canadian marketplace. Risk factors include history of non-compliance, unusual trading patterns and gaps in preventive controls.

In 2021 to 2022, CFIA conducted surveillance to detect the following types of misrepresentation:

  • fish species substitution (when higher value species are replaced with less expensive species)
  • adulteration of honey with added sugars
  • substitution of meat species, typically with lesser value species than what is declared
  • adulteration of olive oil with cheaper oils
  • substitution or dilution of other expensive oils with lower value oils
  • adulteration or dilution of single ingredient ground spices by addition of bulking agents, dyes and other unpermitted ingredients

The approaches taken were similar to the surveillance done in previous years on fish, honey, olive oil, other expensive oils and spices, as summarized in these reports:

Details about the surveillance can be found in the Appendix.

Results at a glance infographic. Description follows.
Description of results at a glance infographic

Total of 844 targeted samples tested for authenticity amongst 6 commodities:

  • fish: 92.7 % satisfactory
  • honey: 77.5 % satisfactory
  • meat: 99.1% satisfactory
  • olive oil: 86.9 % satisfactory
  • other expensive oils: 64.3 % satisfactory
  • spices: 90.8 % satisfactory

CFIA took appropriate action when it found non-compliance.

Table 2. Surveillance results by commodity
- Fish Honey Meat Olive oil Other expensive oils Spices
Number of samples collected 105 80 116 84 56 403
Number of samples assessed 96 Table Note a 80 108 Table Note a 84 56 402 Table Note a
Satisfactory samples % (number of samples/total assessed samples) 92.7%
(89/96)
77.5%
(62/80)
99.1%
(107/108)
86.9%
(73/84)
64.3%
(36/56)
90.8%
(365/402)
Unsatisfactory samples % (number of samples/total assessed samples) 7.3%
(7/96)
22.5%
(18/80)
0.9%
(1/108)
13.1%
(11/84)
35.7%
(20/56)
5.7%
(23/402) Table Note b
Number of investigative samples % (number of samples/total assessed samples) 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.5%
(14/402) Table Note c
Number of no decision samples 5 Table Note d 0 1 Table Note e 0 0 0
Origin or dealer location of unsatisfactory samples (number of unsatisfactory samples) Table Note f

China (1)
Indonesia (2)
Taiwan (1)
Thailand (1)

Canada (2)

Egypt (1)
Greece (4)
India (3)
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2)
Pakistan (2)
Republic of Türkiye (1)
Thailand (2)

blend Greece/ Bulgaria (2)

Canada (1)

Canada (1)

Algeria (1)
Greece (1)
Italy (2)
Lebanon (2)
Republic of Türkiye (1)
Syrian Arab Republic (2)
Tunisia (1)
United States (1)

China (1)
France (2)
India (2)
Italy (3)
Philippines (4)
Spain (1)
Sri Lanka (1)
United Kingdom (2)
Vietnam (1)

Canada (1)

Countries of origin not declared (2)

China (2)
India (8)
Lebanon (1)
Mexico (1)
Republic of Türkiye (3)
Sri Lanka (1)
Sudan (1)
Taiwan (1)
United States (3)

Canada (2)

Domestic % (number of samples/total samples)

95.0%
(19/20)
Satisfactory

5.0%
(1/20) Unsatisfactory

83.3%
(5/6)
Satisfactory

16.7%
(1/6)
Unsatisfactory

100.0%
(58/58) Satisfactory

Declaring foreign state of origin is not mandatory for these commodities. While many of the inputs are imported, in some cases there is further processing (for example, blending) at the domestic level. In cases of non-compliance, origin is identified during follow up.
Retail packaged % (number of samples/total samples)

96.8%
(30/31)
Satisfactory

3.2%
(1/31) Unsatisfactory

N/A Table Note g

94.7%
(18/19) Satisfactory

5.3%
(1/19) Unsatisfactory

N/A Table Note g N/A Table Note g N/A Table Note g
Import % (number of samples/total samples)

88.9%
(40/45)
Satisfactory

11.1%
(5/45) Unsatisfactory

77.0%
(57/74)
Satisfactory

23.0%
(17/74)
Unsatisfactory

100.0%
(31/31) Satisfactory

Declaring foreign state of origin is not mandatory for these commodities. While many of the inputs are imported, in some cases there is further processing (for example, blending) at the domestic level. In cases of non-compliance, origin is identified during follow up.
Product type of unsatisfactory samples % (number of unsatisfactory samples/total samples of that product type)

100.0%
(1/1)
Atlantic ocean perch

6.7%
(1/15)
Cod

100.0%
(1/1)
Flathead sole

20.0%
(1/5)
Kingfish

100.0%
(2/2)
Snapper

100.0%
(1/1)
Tuna

N/A

2.3%
(1/44)
Ground pork

14.2%
(10/70)
Extra virgin olive oil

7.1%
(1/14)
Olive oil

68.8%
(11/16)
Coconut oil

0.0%
(0/1)
Flaxseed oil

26.7%
(4/15)
Grapeseed oil

20.8%
(5/24)
Sesame oil

4.8%
(4/84)
Black pepper

23.7%
(18/76)
Cumin

1.4%
(1/74)
Turmeric

Corrective/ enforcement action

2 kg destroyed

Some products were relabelled

4 letters of non compliance issued

86 746 kg detained

83 896 kg removed from Canada

14 279 kg voluntarily destroyed

Root cause analysis conducted

Preventive measures taken

288 L destroyed

119 cases were relabelled

212 L and 18 kg coconut oil destroyed

867 L grapeseed oil detained

815 L sesame oil destroyed

387 kg destroyed

175 kg and 25 cases of cumin relabelled

1 recall (black pepper)

Link to results Open Government Portal for Fish Open Government Portal for Honey Open Government Portal for Meat Open Government Portal for Oils Open Government Portal for Oils Open Government Portal for Spices

Deter

For the purpose of this report, deterrence is mitigating a detected non-compliance through enforcement action, as well as deterring future non-compliance, such as by publishing the results of enforcement activities.

Enforcement

Regulated parties are reminded of their obligations to comply with regulatory requirements. In cases of non-compliance, enforcement actions are guided by the Standard Regulatory Response Process and are considered on a case-by-case basis. They take into consideration the harm caused by the non-compliance, the compliance history of the regulated party and whether there is intent to violate federal requirements.

When a CFIA inspector determines that a regulated party is in non-compliance with requirements enforced by the CFIA, the inspector has the authority to seize or detain the non-compliant food product and, if the product is not brought into compliance, request that the regulated party dispose of the product, or if imported, remove the product from Canada. In addition, enforcement measures such as Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs), suspension or cancellation of licenses, registrations, permits or certifications and recommendation for prosecution could be used. Continuing its commitment to openness and transparency, as well as to deter non-compliance, CFIA publishes the outcome of a number of compliance and enforcement activities, including those related to misrepresentation.

As part of the 2021 to 2022 surveillance of fish, honey, meat, olive oil, other expensive oils and spices, inspectors followed up on non-compliant samples to determine where the non-compliance originated in the supply chain. Appropriate action was taken on non-compliant products and regulated parties when necessary, as summarized in table 2.

Additionally, CFIA took measures to mitigate any health and safety risks to allergic consumers related to our allergen testing of spices. In one case, the presence of gluten detected in ground black pepper resulted in a recall.

Reports of Administrative Monetary Penalties are also published on the CFIA website. In 2021 to 2022, CFIA issued a total of 45 AMPs for all violations of Safe Food for Canadians Act or regulations. This included some related to misrepresentation.

Prosecutions: charges and convictions

In 2021 to 2022, there were two notifications of charges laid for violations related to food misrepresentation. While these charges do not stem from the surveillance strategies presented in this report, they are the result of CFIA activities to address misrepresentation beginning in previous years.

These charges for non-compliance included misrepresentation of the following:

Convictions in 2021 to 2022:

Next steps

The results of the sampling and testing outlined in this report will be used to inform future efforts to prevent, detect and deter food fraud such as improved risk-based program design, surveillance activities, compliance promotion and enhanced enforcement. The 2022 to 2023 Departmental Plan outlines the CFIA's plan for combatting food fraud for the next year.

To strengthen collaboration and engagement, CFIA will continue to build domestic and international networks relating to its mandate and further explore information-sharing arrangements. CFIA will engage industry to reinforce its responsibility to comply with regulatory requirements. It will also leverage opportunities and partnerships with industry, academia and others to collectively address food fraud.

CFIA is committed to continuous improvement as it continues its risk-informed activities to protect consumers from misrepresentation and contribute to a fair marketplace. Combatting food fraud in Canada is a shared role of government, industry and consumers.

Appendix

Table 3: Overview of surveillance for fish, honey, meat, olive oil, other expensive oils and spices
- Fish Honey Meat Olive oil Other expensive oils Spices
Type of surveillance Species substitution Adulteration with foreign sugar(s) Species substitution Authenticity, adulteration or dilution with lower value oil(s) Dilution with lower value oil(s) Adulteration and/or substitution with bulking agents or other unpermitted ingredients (for example, undeclared allergens, unpermitted chemicals or colours or dyes)
Methodology Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) barcoding to identify fish species and compare with the species associated with the declared common name, according to the CFIA Fish List

Detection of C4 and C3 sugars by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

Detection of C4 sugars by stable isotope ratio analysis (SIRA).

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) that detects species specific antibodies Gas chromatography to assess sterol and fatty acid profile Gas chromatography to assess sterol and fatty acid profile

Depending on the spice:
Determination of water soluble dyes by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).

Determination of lead and chromate by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS)

Allergen testing

Sample type

Prepackaged fish filets in fresh, frozen, dried, or salted format

Species most likely to be substituted: butterfish, cod, halibut, kingfish, sea bass, snapper (red and other), sole, tuna and yellowtail

Also sampled other types of fish suspected to be substituted or mislabelled

Honey or blends of honey from multiple sources Raw and ready-to-eat meat products
ground or cut up (comminuted) to a degree that the species cannot be determined by eyesight
Extra virgin oil
Virgin olive oil
Olive oil composed of refined/extra virgin olive oils
Almond oil
Avocado oil
Coconut oil
Flaxseed oil
Grapeseed oil Hazelnut oil
Sesame seed oil

Single ingredient ground spices:

cinnamon, cumin, paprika, black pepper, white pepper, turmeric

Where sampling occurred Domestic processors, importers and retailers Domestic processors and importers Domestic processors, importers, and retailers Importers, domestic blenders, packers or bottlers and bulk oil distributors Importers, domestic blenders, packers or bottlers and bulk oil distributors Importers and domestic regulated parties