• Can’t We Just Detect and Arrest Fraudsters? Sorry, But No.

    by John Spink • October 3, 2013 • Blog • 0 Comments

    Three prisoners. Group of men in suits of convicts.We won’t arrest our way to food safety, but eliminate research on authenticity testing and detection?  Forget enforcement?  Ignore investigation?  Of course not… but you can’t increase the safety of the food supply if you’re only running around chasing “bad guys.”  Prevention is by far the most efficient policy.  To focus on prevention before developing detection methods will provide insight on the precise technical detection needs.  A focus on prevention can help Food Science and Food Authenticity research to be more efficient.

    I recently guest-lectured for MSU Food Science and Human Nutrition professor Dr. Gale Strasburg’s  course FSC 455 FOOD AND NUTRITION. This is a class for mostly undergraduate seniors.  Even though my guest lecture material covers content that isn’t always included on the test… I usually find a pretty engaged audience.  If the only thing accomplished is introducing Food Fraud prevention to the next wave of future industry leaders then it was time well spent.   I’m even starting to get calls from the alumni as a result of my past guest lectures.  The ideas are sticking and becoming part of the formal or informal curriculum.

    The Food Fraud concepts were new to this group of students so I used my typical Defining Food Fraud and the Role of Prevention  PowerPoint (see  link  in previous blog post).  Actually, to demonstrate the timeliness and impact of the concepts I used the exact deck that I presented the week before in Russia at the Moscow State University for Food Protection (MSUFP) and at the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO).  MSUFP is leading many Russian and regional initiatives in this area.  AFDO is the professional association of US regulators.

    Even though this was the third time I presented the same PowerPoint over the last few weeks… I keep finding new insights.  The students and attendees in EVERY case helped advance the science.  The AFDO insights were covered in a previous post and I’ll have several following up from my trip to Russia.  In presenting to the MSU students – the food scientists and chemists – I went through my usual “detect, deter, and prevent” concepts.  Our discussion led me to really focus on the connection between “detect” and “prevent”, skipping over “deter.”

    To review, “detect” is like an alarm sounding in your house, alerting you that there is a burglar inside. “Deter” is like the police arresting the burglar as he is breaking in (in Situational Crime Prevention and the Crime Triangle this is the “guardian” factor), or like bars on the inside of your windows (barriers or hurdles).  And “prevent” is like having lights on, doors and windows locked, an alarm on, and a dog barking – the burglar now has no interest in breaking into your house.  Clearly you’d rather have the “bad guy” pass right by rather than break your window or be IN your house!

    For food, we need to focus on the “detect” function – and we need to keep developing more precise and targeted tests and equipment.  As we’ve covered before, there are a near-infinite number of types of fraud, and they keep evolving, so we need to keep evolving. The specification of the “detect” innovations must be determined by the ability to support the ultimate goal, which is the “prevent” function.  The focus must first be on “prevent” before we take any other steps.

    The “deter” component is also critical… but I’d rather leave that dangerous function of tackling burglars to the brave and committed law enforcement professionals in that field.  Facing potentially dangerous or violent situations is way out of the scope of the curriculum for food science, packaging, supply chain management, or public health.  Hopefully, with the increase in the “prevent” and “detect” efficiency we decrease the need – and cost – of the “deter” function.

    Whether you are a big or small company, a manufacturer or retailer, industry or government, just understanding the “detect” and “prevent” functions can help increase efficiency of time and money.  JWS.

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