WASHINGTON — The Grocery Manufacturers Association in conjunction with Battelle, a non-profit research and development institute, unveiled a food fraud assessment tool called EMAlert during the association’s annual Science Forum that is being held in Washington this week. The tool is compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act requirement that companies evaluate potential hazards that may be introduced for economic gain.
|Ashley Kubatko, principal research scientist at Battelle|
“EMAlert works by providing quantitative estimates of an organization’s vulnerability to E.M.A. (economic motivated adulteration) for each commodity included in the analysis based on a combination of characteristic attributes and subject matter expert-based weightings,” said Ashley Kubatko, principal research scientist at Battelle, Columbus, Ohio. “The approach focuses on predicting fraudulent tendencies similar to approaches used by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to predict terrorist tendencies and preferences.”
Two attributes included in the assessment are the price of ingredients used to manufacture products as well as the geopolitical stability of the region where ingredients are sourced. The current high prices of such ingredients as saffron or vanilla may be flagged by the assessment tool for possible vulnerabilities.
“The tool does not make decisions for users,” Ms. Kubatko said. “It gives them information that allows them to develop mitigation strategies.”
By analyzing the attributes that contribute to existing vulnerabilities, food safety and defense professionals may use the tool to identify such alternative strategies as identifying suppliers from a more favorable region of the world or investing in research to develop identity tests for targeted commodities.
The introduction of the tool comes as the issue of food fraud is gaining greater attention from members of the industry as well as regulators. Incidences have been linked to such issues as melamine in milk, low quality olive oil being passed off as a higher value extra virgin variety as well as, most recently, wood pulp being used in the production of Parmesan cheese. It is estimated that food fraud costs the world economy as much as $49 billion and that as much as 10% of the food purchased is adulterated.
“The impact on any particular company can range from minor economic damage to the potential loss of economic viability of the organization,” said Shannon Cooksey, vice-president of science policy and regulatory affairs for the G.M.A. “G.M.A. joined with Battelle, the world’s largest non-profit R.&D. organization, to develop a better way of prioritizing the actual risks to specific commodity supply chains at any time, so that decision makers can best apply their resources to the vulnerabilities of greatest importance.”
Ms. Kubatko emphasized that the tool is not an automated process that will alert users based on previous queries.
“It saves the analysis they do,” she said. “We have had a steering group for the development of the tool and that was one piece of feedback at the conclusion of the beta test.”
The EMAlert tool is available to everyone in the food and beverage industry and not just G.M.A. members.
“We hope G.M.A. members will encourage their suppliers to adopt the system,” Ms. Cooksey said. “The goal is to reach every step in the ladder.”
There is a cost associated with the use of EMAlert in the form of a licensing fee. To learn more about EMAlert, Click Here.