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Food fraud. Not something you really want to hear about given our love affair with food. But given that the landscape of food is changing so dramatically due to extraordinary gains in technology and our access to foods from around the globe, it's a subject worth addressing.
New research published in the April Journal of Food Science is apparently the first analysis of "food fraud" or as it is called in the scientific literature, "economically motivated adulteration in food."
Having worked as a financial analyst that covered the food industry among others, I am all too aware of this economic motivation, the need to meet quarterly earnings and the desire to drive shareholder returns. As a matter of fact, that economic incentive is at the heart of our current capitalist model, and is given the regal-sounding name of "fiduciary duty." In other words, it is what executives in the food industry are paid to do: reduce costs of production by replacing natural ingredients with their cheaper, synthetic alternatives in order to increase profit margins.
According to the study, "the authors found 95 percent of records involved replacement -- an authentic material replaced partially or completely by another, less expensive substitute."
So where is this happening? It turn out that based on a review of records from scholarly journals, the top seven adulterated ingredients in the database are:
- Olive oil
- Orange juice
- Apple juice
But if we were to take the literal definition of food fraud, which as defined in a report commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security and funded by the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (University of Minnesota) as:
"A collective term that encompasses the deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain."
Wouldn't that also include our corn and soy that have been engineered to contain patented, distinctly characterized traits that enable the crops to either synthesize and create their own insecticides or to withstand increasing saturation by other chemicals like weed killers?
So should genetically engineered ingredients be #8 on the list?
If the lawsuit against Frito-Lay for the labeling of their corn products as "natural" despite the fact they contain these patented, genetically engineered ingredients, and a similar suit against ConAgra for doing the same with their cooking oils are a leading indicator, it is certainly food for thought.
And if the beef industry can serve as an example, with a beef processing company filing for bankruptcy (perhaps to avoid shareholder litigation or any false and misleading claims filed by consumers) as consumers opt out of "pink slime" and the USDA calls for its labeling, shareholders might want to start asking some tough questions.
A food awakening is happening in the United States, fueled in part by the escalating rates of diseases and in part by the social media. And with genetically engineered ingredients labeled in over 40 countries around the world (as seen in the image below) and patented by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for their distinctly different characteristics, it just might be a smart move for investors interested in both the health of their families and the health of their portfolios to be mindful of the continued adulteration of our food supply.
To learn more about the economically motivated adulteration of food, please visit the database www.foodfraud.org
Health care. You couldn't pick a more loaded political topic (OK, maybe oil) which is absolutely fascinating. Especially in light of the escalating rates of diseases in our country.
Because the bottom line is that unfortunately, we are growing sicker by the year and in increasing need of a thriving health care system to address these conditions.
No one wants to admit these things, and yet the Centers for Disease Control continues to release alarming statistics: from cancer being the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of fifteen, to the escalating rates of asthma, to the increased hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions. It's not just our health that is coming under pressure, our medical system is, too.
It's something that I recently addressed as a keynote to a healthcare conference in Boston (with a short interview highlighting some stats below).
But rather than careen into the darkness, let's not stop and pause for a moment to reflect on the state of our health and our healthcare system. Let's dialogue, based on the principals of Joseph Schumpeter and that of creative disruption, and take a hard and honest look at the existing model in order to revolutionize the design of a new one.
No other nation on the planet spends as much as we do on medical care. As a matter of fact, no one spends more than 12% of their total economy, their GDP, on health care costs.
But according to TIME Magazine, "the most striking aspect of America's medical system remains how much of an outlier it is in the advanced industrial world."
What do we spend? 17%. So 17 cents of every dollar floating around in our economy is spent in the medical system. Sure, that's a great model if you are a company in the medical system capturing those expenditures, it drives shareholder return. But what about the impact that these costs have on our families, corporations and ultimately our economy?
Well, let's take a look.
The fact of the matter is that we do worse than most other countries on almost every measure of health outcomes. We lag behind countries like Bosnia and South Korea in terms of life expectancy at birth, as well as show elevated levels of infant mortality and depressed levels of patient satisfaction.
In other words, we're not healthy and we're not happy with the system we've got.
As TIME Magazine writes "Put simply, we have the most expensive, least efficient system of any rich country on the planet. Costs remain high on every level."
But just because this is the system that we've inherited (consider it a prototype), it doesn't mean that it has to be the system we continue to embrace going forward. We had the fax machine for a while. It worked, but then we developed new technologies, smarter, better, more efficient prototypes. We can do the same thing here.
The landscape in front of us is wide open. And we know that America's got talent, creativity and a fierce entrepreneurial spirit with which it can drive change. It's those characteristics upon which our country was founded.
So lend your talent. Put some skin in the game. Whatever you want to call it.
Let's bring food into the health care equation and let's figure this out. Because we've got too much at stake, as a country, as an economy and as citizens both at home and in the global marketplace.