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  • The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention's (USP) Food Fraud Database contains more than 1,300 records of food fraud published from 1980 to 2010
  • A recent update, which added in cases from 2011 and 2012, increased the number of records by 60 percent, or nearly 800 new records, and includes some foods you may eat everyday, like olive oil, honey, fish and orange juice
  • Food fraud, in which foods are intentionally diluted with other ingredients or misrepresented on the label, is common among milk, spices, fruit juice, seafood and oils
  • Whole, unprocessed foods – ideally purchased from a local farmer, farmer’s market or food coop – are those that will be best for your health as well as least vulnerable to fraud

Food Fraud: What Are You Really Eating?

May 04, 2013 | 67,718 views
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By Dr. Mercola

When you order sushi at your favorite restaurant or pick up a pound of coffee from your local supermarket, you assume you’re getting the red snapper or Columbian beans as stated on the menu or label.

But not so fast. A growing number of cases of “food fraud” are occurring in the United States, such that you may not be able to tell what you’re really eating just by looking at the label.

Worse still, most of these cases are not highly publicized incidents like the recent scandal of UK supermarkets selling “beef” burgers that actually contained horse and pig meat. Instead, they’re ongoing cases of blatant misrepresentation among some incredibly common foods.

What Is Food Fraud?

Food fraud, defined as “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,”1 is the focus of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention's (USP) Food Fraud Database,2 which already has more than 1,300 records of food fraud published from 1980 to 2010.

A recent update, which added in cases from 2011 and 2012, increased the number of records by 60 percent, or nearly 800 new records, and includes some foods you very well may eat every day, like olive oil, honey, seafood and orange juice.

In some cases, the foods were diluted with ingredients not listed on the label. In others, the food was something entirely different than it claimed to be.

Still others contained undisclosed “clouding agents,” including the cancer-causing, reproductive-system-damaging plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), which was added to fruit juices in order to make them appear freshly squeezed. USP found that 877 food products from 315 different companies contained fake clouding agents.

In every case, the food fraud revealed that what you think you’re eating may be far from reality, and the manipulation of food and food ingredients may be far more widespread than anyone realized. Dr. Jeffrey Moore, senior scientific liaison for USP, explained:3

"While food fraud has been around for centuries, with a handful of notorious cases well documented, we suspect that what we know about the topic is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The 10 Most Common Fraudulent Foods

1. Olive Oil

Even “extra virgin” olive oil is often diluted with other less expensive oils, including hazelnut, soybean, corn, sunflower, palm, sesame, grape seed and walnut.

2. Milk

Milk was found to contain vegetable oil, whey, caustic soda, cane sugar, detergent and even toxic compounds like melamine and formaldehyde.

3. Honey

Honey is often not “honey” but instead a mix of high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose syrup, invert beet sugar, water and essential oils.

4. Saffron

It’s the world’s most expensive spice, but it often contains adulterants such as glycerin, sandalwood dust, tartrazine (yellow dye), barium sulfate, borax, marigold flowers and even colored corn strings.

5. Orange Juice

Lemon juice, sugar water, paprika extract, marigold flower extract, and a synthetic sugar/acid mixture may all be lurking in your favorite orange juice.

6. Coffee

Coffee, whether ground or instant, is a likely source of hidden “ingredients” like roasted corn, ground parchment, barley, coffee twigs, potato flower, malt, chicory and caramel.

7. Apple Juice

This childhood favorite may contain corn syrup, raisin sweetener, malic acid, beet sugar and other juices, such as grape, pineapple, pear and fig.

8. Tea

Hiding inside your tea bag may be sand, sawdust, starch, China clay, used tea leaves and color additives. Some tea bags, meanwhile, are made with plastic, such as nylon, thermoplastic, PVC or polypropylene. While these plastics have high melting points, the temperature at which the molecules in polymers begin to break down is always lower than the melting point, which could allow the bags to leach compounds of unknown health hazards into your tea when steeped in boiling water.

Even paper tea bags are frequently treated with epichlorophydrin, which hydrolyzes to 3-MCPD when contact with water occurs. 3-MCPD is a carcinogen associated with food processing that has also been implicated in infertility and suppressed immune function.

9. Fish

Seafood fraud is actually very widespread, as according to the nonprofit ocean protection group Oceana,4 nearly 60 percent of fish labeled "tuna" in the US is not actually tuna. A shocking 84 percent of “white tuna” sold in sushi venues was actually escolar, a fish associated with acute and serious digestive effects if you eat just a couple of ounces.

One-third of all fish samples tested across the US were found to be mislabeled, substituted for cheaper, less desirable and/or more readily available fish varieties. For instance, 87 percent of fish sold as snapper was actually some other type of fish, and the USP found that monkfish was sometimes actually puffer fish, which can also cause poisoning.

10. Black Pepper

This spice is often adulterated with juniper berries, papaya seeds, starch, buckwheat flour and millet seeds. Other foods that made frequent appearances in the fraudulent food database include:

Turmeric Chili powder Cooking oil
Shrimp Lemon juice Maple syrup

Reading Food Labels Is No Longer Enough to Ensure Healthful Food

It seems quite clear at this point that food fraud is on the rise, and while many have started reading food labels, those labels are increasingly being found to be less than truthful. Even if your food is not being illegally diluted with undisclosed adulterants (or being misrepresented as a different food entirely), many corporations hire lawyers to carefully craft words that are just barely on the side of being legal. Each of the following label items are often used in deceptive ways that may lead you to buy a product you'd otherwise avoid:

  1. Vitamin and mineral claims
  2. The "All Natural" label
  3. The "Organic" label
  4. Misleading nutritional facts
  5. Dangerous ingredients not required to be listed on any food label

For instance, labels like "all-natural" and "organic" can also be sorely misleading. The first means virtually nothing when it comes to processed foods, and the only organic label worth paying attention to is the USDA Organic seal. Nutritional facts, meanwhile, can be off by up to 20 percent before breaking any regulations, and currently you have no way of knowing if a food contains genetically modified ingredients as labeling is not required.

While reading labels on the products you buy is important, when it comes to food, you're far better off limiting or eliminating foods that require extensive labeling or listing of ingredients in the first place. Whole foods – the kind that have little to no labeling at all – are those that will be best for your health as well as least vulnerable to fraud.

Tips for Avoiding Food Fraud and Finding Safe, Healthful Foods

If you value food safety and authenticity, you'll want to get your produce, meat, chickens, eggs and dairy from smaller community farms with free-ranging animals, organically fed and locally marketed. This is the way food has been raised and distributed for centuries ...

The closer your foods are to the way they’re found in nature, and the closer you are to the actual source of your food, the greater your changes of finding pure, unadulterated food for your family. When you buy the bulk of your food from a local farmer or community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, you can get to know the person who is supplying your food and even ask questions about its growing conditions.

This way, when you pick up a gallon of, preferably raw, milk or a jar of honey, you’ll know it’s pure and exactly as it’s being represented. Most people should be able to find a farmer’s market, local farm or CSA in their area (see the infographic below for resources), but in the event you’re still buying some of your food at chain supermarkets, the following tips can help you to find REAL food:

  1. Choose food in the least processed form possible, such as lemons instead of bottled lemon juice and whole black pepper or coffee beans in lieu of ground
  2. When buying fish, purchase the whole fish whenever possible, which makes it more difficult to switch species. Also, if the price seems too low, it’s probably because you’re buying a different fish than is actually on the label
  3. Stick with stores and brands that you know and trust; while not a foolproof strategy, natural food stores generally have a better track record than big box stores or chain supermarkets

If you want to learn more about the types of food fraud that may be impacting foods you commonly eat, you can both search the USP database and report fraud directly at www.foodfraud.org.

What Are GMOs?

From April 19th through April 25th we launch GMO Awareness Week. We set aside an entire week dedicated to providing you with information on GMOs and labeling initiatives.

GMOs are a product of genetic engineering, meaning their genetic makeup has been altered to induce a variety of “unique” traits to crops, such as making them drought-resistant or giving them “more nutrients.” GMO proponents claim that genetic engineering is “safe and beneficial,” and that it advances the agricultural industry. They also say that GMOs help ensure the global food supply and sustainability. But is there any truth to these claims? I believe not. For years, I've stated the belief that GMOs pose one of the greatest threats to life on the planet. Genetic engineering is NOT the safe and beneficial technology that it is touted to be.

Help Support GMO Labeling

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—Monsanto’s Evil Twin—is pulling out all the stops to keep you in the dark about what’s in your food. For nearly two decades, Monsanto and corporate agribusiness have exercised near-dictatorial control over American agriculture. For example, Monsanto has made many claims that glyphosate in Roundup is harmless to animals and humans. However, recently the World Health Organization (WHO) had their research team test glyphosate and have labeled it a probable carcinogen.

Public opinion around the biotech industry's contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We're fighting back. That's why I was the first to push for GMO labeling. I donated a significant sum to the first ballot initiative in California in 2012, which inspired others to donate to the campaign as well. We technically "lost the vote, but we are winning the war, as these labeling initiatives have raised a considerable amount of public awareness.

The insanity has gone far enough, which is why I encourage you to boycott every single product owned by members of the GMA, including natural and organic brands. More than 80 percent of our support comes from individual consumers like you, who understand that real change comes from the grassroots.

Thankfully, we have organizations like the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to fight back against these junk food manufacturers, pesticide producers, and corporate giants.

Internet Resources Where You Can Learn More

Together, Let's Help OCA Get The Funding They Deserve

Let’s Help OCA get the funding it deserves. I have found very few organizations who are as effective and efficient as OCA. It’s a public interest organization dedicated to promoting health justice and sustainability. A central focus of the OCA is building a healthy, equitable, and sustainable system of food production and consumption. That's why I'm proud to announce I will be matching donations up to $250,000 this week.

Please make a donation to help OCA fight for GMO labeling.

Donate Today!

Thank you! Your purchases help us support these charities and organizations.

Food Democracy Now
Mercury Free Dentistry
Fluoride Action Network
National Vaccine Information Center
Institute for Responsible Technology
Organic Consumers Association
Center for Nutrtion Advocacy
Cornucopia Institute
Vitamin D Council
GrassrootsHealth - Vitamin D*action
Alliance for Natural Health USA
American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation
The Rabies Challenge Fund
Cropped Catis Mexico