The COVID-19 pandemic has placed unprecedented stresses on food supply chains, with bottlenecks in farm labour, processing, transport and logistics, as well as momentous shifts in demand. Most of these disruptions are a result of policies adopted to contain the spread of the virus. Food supply chains have demonstrated a remarkable resilience in the face of these stresses. Grocery store shelves have been replenished over time, as stockpiling behaviour disappeared and as supply chains responded to increased demand.
Long lines at borders shrank quickly in response to policies to alleviate unnecessary restrictions. While the impacts of COVID-19 are still unfolding, experience so far shows the importance of an open and predictable international trade environment to ensure food can move to where it is needed. The biggest risk for food security is not with food availability but with consumers’ access to food: safety nets are essential to avoid an increase in hunger and food insecurity.
As the supply chain continues to be affected by the current pandemic, there are growing concerns across the global food and beverage industry that vigilance against the varied types of food fraud is critically low. It follows news in a number of European countries, including Scotland, Italy and Spain, that recent circumstances have created a factor or motivation in recent reports of food crime.
Global supply has been under immense stress due to disruptions related to transport, labour and reduced production capacity, resulting in varying food quality. New suppliers have also been emerging, who might not have been vetted to the same level as established suppliers unable to meet demand.
When supply and manufacturing of food and beverages are not able to be policed so vigilantly, food fraud can be committed more readily. Where acts such as substitution of ingredients and relabelling of out of date items were illegal cost cutting schemes, logistics and manufacturing shortfalls could now mean that instances of food fraud are committed just to keep up with demand.
Kimberly Carey Coffin, Global Technical Director – Supply Chain Assurance at LR, commented: “During this uncertain time, we must be vigilant to food fraud of all kinds because now more than ever the industry is at risk. With consumer trust and product safety more important than ever, we urge business to ensure they continue taking the correct precautions to maintain supply chain integrity.”
With the catastrophic effects of a food fraud scandal looming, businesses should make sure they are using suppliers that have been verified according to international standards. Supply chain integrity programmes from independent assurance specialists, like LR, can also ensure product provenance, relevant certification and audits have been taken place.
Kimberly continues: “The value of your brand is dependent on the food and drink being supplied to you being unadulterated and of the highest quality. At Lloyd’s Register, we have enhanced our remote auditing services to ensure standards are being upheld.
“Now more than ever, organisations’ reputations are in the firing line, and a food fraud scandal could be catastrophic to an already-stretched industry. Staying vigilant and making use of support with verification and certification can go some way to avoiding this.”