Food Integrity: The Case of Canadian Meat Imports to China

In late June 2019, the Chinese government suspended all imports of Canadian meat after having discovered a shipment of Canada-labeled pork that contained residue from a banned additive called Ractopamine. Ractopamine helps animals to grow larger and leaner on less food, which means farmers spend less money on raising the animals and make a larger profit after their sale. While Ractopamine is legal in Canada and the United States, it is banned in several other countries, including China. Chinese import officials detected the residue during normal sampling and testing procedures. 

The more disturbing discovery was that the accompanying veterinary certificate that testified to the origin and quality of the meat was falsified, which was confirmed by an inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). According to Canadian officials, the meat shipment is of unknown origin. The case has been referred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for investigation. 

As these events continue to unfold, it’s worth highlighting how perfectly they illustrate the complexities of food integrity issues. While officials investigate the origin of the shipment, we know enough about food crime to extrapolate one possible chain of events. An organized criminal syndicate from anywhere in the world takes advantage of a complex international food supply chain by obtaining cheap meat from an uncontrolled source, falsifying convincing labels and certification documents that ride on the credibility and integrity of the strong trade relationship between Canada and China, and selling it to a likely oblivious Chinese importer. While the certification documents appear to have passed the scrutiny of the Chinese importers, it was only the standard sampling and testing methods that exposed the banned substance and illuminated what was likely a long-standing food crime enterprise. As for the meat itself, rigorous testing will determine if it’s pork, as the label claims, if it’s contaminated through poor storage methods, or if it’s even fit for human consumption. In all likelihood, this is just one example of a criminal enterprise that has successfully inserted unknown quantities of fraudulent meat into the international food supply chain for some time. 

Economically motivated food crime is the intentional adulteration of food products for profit. Since it usually requires a considerable amount of sophistication, food crime has strong parallels with organized crime instead of isolated activities by disgruntled or opportunistic individuals. As the food industry develops more advanced tools for preventing food crime, criminal organizations will work to counter those advances with increasingly sophisticated ways of deceiving standard sampling and testing. Vigilance, education, and awareness will therefore be key elements in mounting an effective food defence strategy. 

Our four-part series on food defence strategies begins this month with our new Insight Report Food Integrity: A Practitioner’s Guide to Navigating Food Quality & Safety Standards. In the next few months, we’ll expand our approach by looking at food crime, innovations in food safety, and recommendations from the Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks. Together they provide deep insights into how to learn lessons from food adulteration and contamination events that will help you protect your business and your customers. 

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