ON a beach Goa, in the 1990s, I was sold some fake Saffron by a native claiming to have brought it from Kashmir; I was of course aware that the best Saffron comes from Kashmir. I had smelled the sample before buying another in a sealed container, when I got back to the hotel I realised I'd been had and the spice smelt of nowt. Fortunately I met the native again at a market in the Hindu part of northern Goa, and gave him a good bollocking in front of his mates. Of course, people have to make a living somehow and one always takes a chance in countries like India. What may be of concern is the industrial nature of food fraud now taking place in western countries.
In today's New York Times there is a report of a vodka distillery being raided in the lush countryside at a farm called Little Moscow in Great Dalby. There tens of thousands of litres of counterfeit spirit were distilled into genuine vodka bottles with almost perfect labels to be sold a corner shops around the England. The fake Glen's vodka look real enough but analysis showed that it was spiked with bleach to lighten its colour, and it contained high levels of methanol, that can cause blindness.
Regulators say that the horse meat scandal in the UK earlier this year was only the tip of the iceberg and that legitimate companies can get taken in in the murky world of food fraud. Mitchell Weinberg, president and chief executive of Inscatech, a company that advises on food security says: 'Around the world, food fraud is an epidemic - in every single country where food is produced or grown food fraud is occurring.' He added: 'Just about every ingredient that has even a moderate economic value is potentially vulnerable to fraud.' Saffron would be particularly vulnerable because it is more valuable than gold of the same weight.
Illegally fished and contaminated shellfish often finds its way to fish markets, and when I was in Croatia during the Balkan war in former Yugoslavia there was a thriving black market in fish. Only recently the owner of a fish and chip shop in Plymouth, Devopn, was fined for selling a cheaper Asian river fish called panga as cod.
Shaun Kennedy, a professor at the University of Minnesota, reckons 10% of food that people buy in the developed world is adulterated. Mr. Kennedy says: 'Mostly the perpetrators are not intending to cause anyone harm - that would be bad for repeat business - but often they don't understand the potential impact.' In some cases cheap products are added to genuine products to increase profit margins. Vegetable oil goes inot chocolate bars, or pomegranate juice, wine, coffee, honey or olive oil is adulterated with water, sweeteners or cheap substitutes. 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 wrongly labelled; 1.2 tons of fake truffle shavings; 500 kilograms of inedible pastries; false Parmesan cheese from the US and Egypt. Other fake items found by Wandsworth Council were two boxes of fake Durex condoms, in convincing packages, and a bottle of counterfeit Bollinger Champagne.
With a fake food it seems the more you look the more you find.