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Many businesses see technical risk management as a cost to the business. However, consider the scenario of food fraud destroying trust, sales and profitability of your business.


Why is fraud such a hot topic in the food and petfood industries? I would say because everyone knows that it exists (we just don’t know the extent of the problem) and no one knows how to stop it.


It is very common when writing about food fraud to say food fraud exists ever since Ancient Greek and Roman times with the adulteration of food and wine. That may be true, but the impact and reach of fraud in modern society is enormous, in terms of financial cost and in loss of consumer trust.

With Industrial Revolution, of the 18th and 19th century, goods started to be produced in big centralized facilities and then transported to clients. The distance between producers and consumers increased and with this trust and close relationships decreased. In the food industry this commercial practice increased after the 2nd World War as society benefited from improved transportation facilities and also from the use of relatively new technology like refrigerated transport.


In modern society the complexity of the supply chain is commonly referred as one of the major contributors to make food fraud difficult to tackle. This is completely true as one product may contain ingredients from all over the globe. But we should not disregard a common mindset particularly observed after the 1980’s  where organizations are more focused on their short term (e. g. quarterly results) then in the long run. Pressure to produce results, to increase sales, to beat the market expectations may be catalysts of fraud behaviours.


As we can’t undo the Industrial Revolution or Globalisation maybe we should focus on working on the mindset of people, especially owners and managers of the food industry? We can help avoid damaging our businesses and consumer trust in the food and petfood supply chain by changing the mindset to promote behaviours more aligned with long turn sustainability of the business and less on short term “quick wins” where the probability of food fraud occurring might be greater, as business risks are taken.

Today’s pet owners have high expectations


On-going humanization and premiumization trends are key success factors in global petfood market growth, worth around $75.5 billion value in 2020 (1).


Based on the on-going trend of “pets as family members”, pet owners increasingly have the same expectations on pet and human food. They expect legal, safe products of the expected quality (healthy, nutritious, palatable, digestible) at a price they are willing to pay, produced by an industry they can trust.


Based on human food trends, they also demand more, for example, authenticity in identity preserved ingredients e.g. organic. Sadly, especially in times of crisis like Coronavirus, this leaves both the human and  petfood industries more vulnerable to the crime of food fraud.

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Food fraud is it a problem in the petfood industry?


The EU Food Fraud Network estimated global food fraud to cost around €30 billion ($32 billion) in 2018 and  can affect the entire food industry leading to loss of trust. For example, the 2007 – 2008 melamine crisis saw more pet owners making “homemade” petfood due to lack of trust in commercial petfood.


There are few reported incidents of food fraud in the petfood industry, in the public domain and potential reasons include:

  • Food fraud often goes undetected unless it is associated with a food safety incident. This logic will apply in petfood
  • Lack of knowledge on potential threats and how to detect the threat analytically
  • Petfood fraud might not be a significant issue in the industry but the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimated adulteration levels up to 10% in UK supermarket shelves. The question is “Does this include petfood?”
  • Petfood fraud is not reported / under-recorded because affected companies do not want to experience reputational damage
  • Regulatory authorities might not want to publicise food fraud issues due to the potential loss of trust in the industry, potential legal action or to avoid giving criminals options to commit the crime.


However, food fraud associated wheat gluten adulterated with melamine, resulted in the biggest, most costly recall in the history of the petfood industry. Key facts are:

  • Widely used in moist / wet petfood, wheat gluten price is based on protein content. Melamine adulteration tricks the protein analysis into estimating an artificially high “protein” content which commands a “high” price
  • > 800 tons of adulterated wheat gluten, affecting >100 brands, resulted in a recall of 60 million cans costing >$42 million USD.
  • > 200 cats and 100 dogs suffered kidney failure, with estimated deaths > 1,900 cats and 2,200 dogs.


Not all (potential) food fraud presents a food safety issue or might cause chronic illness not seen in the short-term but can damage trust. Examples of human food fraud that could affect petfood include:

  • False labelling of MSC “sustainable” fish (higher market value) caught from fisheries not certified as “sustainable”; this is ethical issue but could cause food safety issues if the fishery were in a contaminated area.
  • Lead chromate adulteration of turmeric. Widely used in petfood, for its nutraceutical properties, the US FDA issued 17 recalls for adulterated turmeric in USA between 2011 – 2016. This has potential to cause chronic long-term lead poisoning issues due to lead accumulation in animals (humans, cats, dogs etc).


Other examples of petfood fraud (with potential food safety risks), recorded in food fraud databases include:

  • “Fake” super-premium Orijen cat and dog food packed into packaging to deceive consumer it was genuine
  • False import documentation (health certificates).

Building pet owner trust through petfood fraud mitigation


Market leading petfood manufacturers use the Vulnerability Assessment and Critical Control Points (VACCP) process to minimise the risk of food fraud. Like HACCP (for ensuring food safety,) this logical process builds trust through identifying and controlling potential food fraud in petfood ingredients and petfood.


For effectiveness VACCP must also include “horizon scanning” to identify future potential risks and appropriate controls. For example, increased humanisation / premiumization trends for using “superfoods” in petfood e.g. berries, might present future risks in petfood due to known issues with fraud in human food.



Many businesses see technical risk management as a cost to the business. However, consider the scenario of food fraud destroying trust, sales and profitability of your business.


We know that businesses are all experiencing uncertain economic times during Covid-19 and sadly, there are likely to be petfood industry business casualties. However, recent market research data presented at “Petfood Forum Connect” (9/10 September and 15 – 17 September) again highlights the apparent recession proof nature of the global petfood industry in times of crisis.  Thinking about the special importance of pets in society, especially at times of stress like Covid-19 our pet owners expect petfood that is safe, of the expect quality and is authentic. Implementing, maintaining, and improving management systems that minimise risks of food safety, quality and food fraud failure are business strategies to ensure survival in these turbulent these times and support future growth. Ask yourself, it worth putting your business at risk of food fraud, either now or in future?

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This article was written with David Primrose 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the authors personal experience and opinion. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization they work for or collaborate with. The authors will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.



(1) Petfood Industry magazine

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