The petfood industry is not immune to food fraud.


As we wait for global vaccine roll out to alleviate the situation, we are all still enduring ongoing effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic, as it negatively impacts on both our personal and business lives. We all know about the mental challenges we face through lack of personal contact with friends and family and the commercial problems associated with supply chain constraints and staff illness due to Covid-19. If these were not enough to deal with, sadly we also have to deal with increased risk of fraud.

Sadly, history teaches us that when there is a major crisis, like the 2008 global financial collapse, levels of fraud in society increase. An article in “Forbes” magazine published in April 2020 highlights the reality of the situation “Fraud: An Inevitable Symptom Of COVID-19” (4/4/20) and reminds us that fraud is a highly opportunistic crime and we are vulnerable during the current CV-19 pandemic. During the current CV-19 pandemic, globally cases of all types of fraud have increased, including cybercrime, identity fraud, fake Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed to protect our medical staff as they treat both Covid and non-covid patients and food fraud.

Historically, food fraud has been recorded in both petfood raw materials and in finished product that buy owners buy to feed their pets. The important point is that in addition to a failure in authenticity, for example “premium” chicken meal containing “feather meal”, food fraud can also be linked to food safety failure. This was seen with devastating impact during the “Melamine crisis” of 2007 – 2008 when wheat gluten adulterated with melamine for economic gain, resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 pets in North America. Whatever the impact illness, death, or deception these cases result in loss of trust in the petfood industry ability to manufacture and supply authentic, safe petfood.

New research highlights the benefits of physical contact with your pet

For many years we have recognised the importance of companion animals in supporting pet owners mental and physical health. This has seen strengthened bonds between pet and owner, with some owners treating their pets as a member of the family. A positive benefit of this is that it is an ongoing driver of petfood market growth through petfood premiumisation and humanization. This is linked to pet owners desire to reward their pets and play an active part in ensuring their health and wellness.

More recently, new research from University of South Australia, has been published in the journal “Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy” that points to potentially an even more important role during the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the benefits outlined above, this new research also indicates that physical contact between pet and pet owner appeared to have a mutual comforting and relaxation effect on both owner and pets during times of stress, sadness, and trauma. Pets, touch, and COVID-19: health benefits from non-human touch through times of stress

These finding make it even more important that pet owners expectations on safe, authentic petfood are met. This means that we need to ensure petfood safety using effective HACCP based food safety management systems minimise the risks of petfood fraud using risk-based food fraud management systems like VACCP (Vulnerability Assessment Critical Control Point).  Sadly, one type of fraud known as food fraud can affect both petfood safety and authenticity making our pets ill and causing loss of trust.

The importance of trust

The benefits of feeding commercially prepared petfood are well known as these are specially formulated and manufactured to meet the requirements of the pet and owner, including nutrition, pet enjoyment, value for money and food safety.

Pet owners put their trust in petfood manufacturers in ensuring these requirements are satisfied.

Demonstrating trust should be a core part of any business vision and during times of crises be part of the Business Continuity Plan and crisis management procedures. Although challenging during a crisis, trust takes a long time to build but can be destroyed in a very short time. What happens if consumers lose trust in your ability to supply safe petfood but your competitor has been more proactive to reassure customers and maintain trust?

Is your business vulnerable to petfood fraud?

If you want to help protect your business against food fraud during and after CV-19, think like a criminal!

The 1950’s US criminologist Donald R. Cressey taught us that fraud requires 3 elements to be present for criminals to commit it: –

  • Opportunity e.g., lack of food fraud control using Vulnerability Assessment and Critical Control Points (VACCP); raw material shortages, especially of “high” cost ingredients
  • Incentive / Motivation e.g., Personal thinking like “Everyone else is doing it”; “I am not making as much money as I deserve.”
  • Justification e.g., Personal greed, debt, to fund addiction habits.

Raw materials are essential in ensuring petfood legality, safety and to meet customer expectations but increased risk of food fraud might make it more difficult to meet these requirements. Factors increasing food fraud risk include: – potential staff shortages (including quality department staff), complex raw material supply chains, shortage of “High” value ingredients.

In addition to minimising current risks, many market leading businesses are currently reviewing systems like Vulnerability Assessment and Critical Control Points (VACCP), to build business preparedness and resilience for future crises.

Although a detailed discussion is not possible here, VACCP involves a logical, systematic approach similar to HACCP used for food safety management. For effectiveness, a VACCP study requires that we “Think like a criminal”: –

  • Which raw materials are more vulnerable?Which types of adulteration are more difficult to detect?
  • Where are the weak spots in the supply chain (vulnerable points) exist where adulteration / substitution can be made?
  • Where and what are the control systems that need to be improved?

For effectiveness VACCP must also include “horizon scanning” to identify future potential food fraud risks and mitigate against these using appropriate controls. For example, increased trends for using “superfoods” in human foods e.g., berries, might increase risk if these are used as part of humanisation in petfood.

(This blog was adapted from the article “Pet food fraud: Act now to build business resilience” by David Primrose, published online in “Petfood Industry”, May 1, 2020)

Petfood fraud, are your systems effective in reducing the risk?

Many businesses see technical risk management, including food fraud mitigation systems like VACCP, as a cost to the business. However, consider the scenario of food fraud destroying trust, sales, and profitability of your business. Is this a risk worth taking now or in future or are you happy to endorse the view that “It will never happen here”?

To help you better understand how to defend your business against food fraud and maintaining pet owner trust is supplying safe, authentic petfood,  contact us to discuss how Synergy Petfood can help ensure your HACCP and VACCP effectiveness.