Economically Motivated Adulteration

Another dimension of food safety involves the deliberate adulteration of food, motivated by greed or a political agenda. In the case of economically motivated adulteration (EMA), the aim is not to harm people but to inflate profits by fraudulent means. According to Shaun Kennedy, director of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense at the University of Minnesota, up to 10 percent of food products in retail stores contain some degree of adulteration, and EMA events cost the food industry between $10 billion and $15 billion a year. Examples include the dilution of orange juice, the substitution of cheaper oils for more expensive ones, and the use of nitrogen-containing chemical additives to increase the apparent protein content of foods. Mislabeling is also common: over 50 percent of pomegranate juices do not contain the advertised ingredients.

What are the implications of food product adulteration on food security? - Shaun Kennedy

In some cases, EMA can have serious consequences for public health. During the 1970s, wheat gluten in flour imported into the United States was contaminated with urea as a cheap substitute for protein. More recently in China, melamine, a synthetic chemical that has a variety of industrial uses in the production of laminates, glues, plastics, and coatings has been used to increase apparent protein levels in foods. Because melamine contains 66 percent nitrogen by weight, it is added to food products to increase their nitrogen content, which is used as a surrogate for measuring protein content. In animals and young children, melamine reacts with a metabolic product called cyanuric acid to produce kidney stones, often resulting in acute renal failure.

Beginning in February 2007, melamine-contaminated pet food imported from China caused the illness and death of many cats and dogs in the United States. Because expired pet food was fed to hogs and poultry for human consumption, the adulterated product also found its way into the human food supply. In 2008, Chinese dairies added melamine to milk to compensate for intentional dilution during the production of powdered infant formula. The melamine-contaminated milk sickened more than 290,000 Chinese children, of whom 50,000 were hospitalized and at least six died.25