Seek and ye shall find; counterfeit food more widespread than suspected

This is the lemon from my lemon tree.

The one lemon.

The tree will yield more in the future, but since I alone use a lemon and a lemon.jun.13couple of limes every day, it would be a long winter without farmers.

A consideration when  the usual response to claims of food fraud is to go back to the land in concrete jungles.

A still would be more practical.

The N.Y. Times reports that hidden deep in the lush English countryside, Moscow Farm is an unlikely base for an international organized crime gang churning out a dangerous brew of fake vodka.

But a quarter of a mile off a one-lane road here, tens of thousands of liters of counterfeit spirits were distilled, pumped into genuine vodka bottles, with near-perfect counterfeit labels and duty stamps, and sold in corner shops across Britain. The fake Glen’s vodka looked real. But analysis revealed that it was spiked with bleach to lighten its color, and contained high levels of methanol, which in large doses can cause blindness.

The Europe-wide scandal surrounding the substitution of cheaper horse meat in what had been labeled beef products caught the most attention from consumers, regulators and investigators this year. But in terms of food fraud, regulators and investigators say, that is just a hint of what has been happening as the economic crisis persists.

Investigators have uncovered thousands of frauds, raising fresh questions about regulatory oversight as criminals offer bargain-hunting shoppers cheap versions of everyday products, including counterfeit chocolate and adulterated olive oil, Jacob’s Creek wine and even Bollinger Champagne. As the horse meat scandal showed, even legitimate companies can be overtaken by the murky world of food fraud.

“Around the world, food fraud is an epidemic — in every single country where food is produced or grown, food fraud is occurring,” said Mitchell Weinberg, president and chief executive of Inscatech, a company that advises on food security. “Just about every single ingredient that has even a moderate economic value is potentially vulnerable to fraud.”

Whenever there is tampering, there are potential risks to health. Indian restaurants in Britain have been prosecuted for adding ground peanuts to food.fraud.adulterationalmond powder, which poses a risk to allergy sufferers. Food experts say that engine oil is among the substances found in olive oil.

In a weeklong food fraud crackdown last year, the French authorities seized 100 tons of fish, seafood and frogs legs whose origin was incorrectly labeled; 1.2 tons of fake truffle shavings; 500 kilograms, or 1,100 pounds, of inedible pastries; false Parmesan cheese from America and Egypt; and liquor from a Dutch company marketed as tequila. They also found fraudulent Web sites claiming to sell caviar.

Illegally fished and contaminated shellfish often finds its way to fish markets. And even the fish that is safe to eat may not be what consumers think it is; the owner of a fish and chip shop in Plymouth, England, was fined last year for selling a cheaper Asian river fish called panga as cod.

Another fraud is to fake the packaging of well-known brands with writing in a foreign language so consumers believe they have a genuine product that was diverted abroad at a bargain price.

Even religious communities are not immune. In Britain, the Food Standards Agency has warned against drinking Zam Zam water, which is sacred to Muslims and comes from Saudi Arabia. Bottles sold in Britain “may contain high levels of arsenic or nitrates,” the agency said.