With COVID-19, e-commerce is taking more and more place, and promotional campaigns to sell food products on social networks, at a discount of course, are pouring in. In the United States and in Europe, there have already been cases of food fraud. Moreover, according to a report published this week in Europe, cases of food adulteration have increased by 30% and incidents of counterfeiting, by 47% since the start of the pandemic. No cases have been reported in Canada to date, but we are not immune to these stories either. Products shipped to some consumers were of poor quality or not at all what they ordered.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in England has just published a notice regarding the provenance and safety of meat sold on Facebook. It appears that some meats are said to come from an unregistered and unlicensed company. The agency also believes that these products were stolen. Theft in the agri-food industry exists around the world, including Canada. On average in the country, a supermarket can be robbed for more than $ 2,500 worth of food per week. These products can be found all over the market. Food laundering is a reality that most of the time escapes the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and provincial inspectors. Virtual is another world, especially for the food industry.
Thefts and contraband notwithstanding, some businesses – not all, but some – have been under additional pressure since the start of the pandemic. Thus, some are really tempted to reduce the costs of ingredients and inputs to avoid laying off staff. It is such conditions that criminologists believe could cause individuals who once were honest to behave in an unfair manner. Once they have taken this first step, normalizing food fraud is a behavior that is often observed.
In addition, according to some sources, inspections and audits were temporarily suspended at the onset of the pandemic, which could have undermined the surveillance and compliance systems of the agri-food industry in Canada. Nothing is certain, but how can we really know if the CFIA does not perform any checks? At least it becomes difficult if it doesn’t do as much as the FSA in Europe.
Online food sales have more than tripled since the start of the pandemic in Canada. It is clear that e-commerce will give our public regulators headaches. If it’s hard to force some companies that operate in the dark like Netflix to pay taxes, imagine how complicated it becomes to monitor and regulate food items sold on the internet.
The vast majority of agrifood companies in Canada do an excellent job selling quality products. But the pandemic has brought its incredible share of change and confusion. Some find it hard to make ends meet, so a godsend on Facebook or other social media might be tempting.
Ensuring the quality and monitoring of products when they are sold online is not easy, both for regulators and for consumers. We must therefore remain vigilant. So if you see food being sold on Facebook by a dodgy company that can’t be tracked down, beware.