Forensic skills recruited to food chain

23 Sep, 2017 04:00 AM
At the Landmark and BDO sundowner in Subiaco last week were BDO managing partner Peter Toll (left), Landmark region corporate services and business development manager – west, Glenn McTaggart and WFI senior distribution manager agribusiness – western, John Snowball, with guest speakers, Source Certain International executive chairman Cameron Scadding and IAG / WFI insurance product development man
At the Landmark and BDO sundowner in Subiaco last week were BDO managing partner Peter Toll (left), Landmark region corporate services and business development manager – west, Glenn McTaggart and WFI senior distribution manager agribusiness – western, John Snowball, with guest speakers, Source Certain International executive chairman Cameron Scadding and IAG / WFI insurance product development man

TO most WA producers the essence of a supply chain is the path their produce takes from the moment it leaves the farmgate to when it lands in the hands of a consumer.

But for forensic and analytical chemist Cameron Scadding, executive chairman of Source Certain International, it provides a very different dynamic.

Mr Scadding was speaking at a function for broadacre farmers and key industry figures hosted by Landmark and BDO in Subiaco last week.

The son of a Kulin wheat and sheep farmer, he left the relative security of the family farm, at the front end of the supply chain, aged 15, to finish schooling and pursue his desire to "catch bad guys".

And help catch plenty Mr Scadding did as he worked with various law enforcement agencies and businesses internationally, applying his forensic expertise.

"Supply chains are great places for organised crime to hide money," Mr Scadding said.

"When you are dealing with a high-value, high-demand product it is susceptible to corruption and infiltration and my job was to use forensic technology to identify problems and those responsible."

Now Mr Scadding has turned full circle, returning to agriculture and using these same forensic skills to protect supply chain integrity through complete traceability, tracking food production from paddock to plate.

"It's like with gold fingerprinting where we use the chemistry of gold to identify the mine of origin for every piece of gold found," Mr Scadding said.

He said the same premise existed for food, using the food's chemical fingerprint to determine its source or provenance.

"Most of what you produce on-farm is considered a commodity, but more importantly it's a food product and the source of this food product matters," Mr Scadding said.

"We are helping consumers to connect with where their food has come from and to understand and engage with the story behind it, but if we can't guarantee the integrity of the product right along the supply chain there is disconnect and confidence is destroyed.

"Consumers are increasingly questioning the integrity of products and they do care where their food is from and how it is produced.

"One example of disconnect is with respect to GM and the importance that this has in our food supply system.

"Farmers insist they need GM to survive, but consumers are questioning whether or not they want to eat it.

"We must connect with consumers and communicate where the food is from, how it is produced and if necessary why a particular system is used.

Mr Scadding said farmers owned the narrative on what they produced, saying it was their product, but at the moment the narrative was being capitalised on by the big supermarkets.

"We can see the shift in the way brands are using farmer's or producer's stories as they respond to the trend.

"Your story has value, grounded in the provenance of the food, but remember consumers drive the demand," Mr Scadding said.

"Take the case of free range eggs.

"Supermarket data shows about 50 per cent of consumers are currently buying free range eggs, but if you ask the question of consumers, about 80pc will say they are buying free range.

"Clearly what they say and what they do are different.

"Consumers do not trust the claims being made, especially when the integrity of the supply chain has been damaged."

One recent case highlighting this was the Snowdale Holdings eggs scandal where the company sold eggs labelled as free range under labels such as Eggs by Ellah, which were not free range.

"We estimate consumers paid $20 million more than they should have for the fraudulent eggs, so the company's fine of more than $1 million was clearly justified," Mr Scadding said.

Also relating to eggs, an example of the power of consumer demand occurred when one of the big supermarket chains employed an international celebrity chef as part of a promotional campaign.

"Almost overnight the retailer and the chef collectively changed the way in which eggs will be produced in this country by steering consumer expectation on what a free range egg is."

Mr Scadding said our penchant for wanting everything all year round had led to more offshore produce in our food chain, but it was changing.

"People are now starting to question where their food is coming from and has it travelled more than them, accelerated by the Nanna's berries hepatitis issue in 2015," Mr Scadding said.

The share-listed Patties Foods, and specifically its Nanna's brand, was damaged badly and despite Nanna's being a small part of the overall business, Patties Foods' profitability and ability to deliver a return to shareholders as a whole was impacted.

"People's relationship to food is intimate, it is emotional, irrational and very hard to mend if it is broken," Mr Scadding said.

"Scandals and incidents like this rock people's trust."

Mr Scadding said high profile examples of food fraud included Agromafia's involvement in olive oil trade, horse meat substitutions and a case in Malta where second rate or no value grain was green-washed and rebadged as organic and sold into the market with a premium price tag.

Perhaps the biggest case when considering impact on consumer trust, was the Chinese melamine in infant milk formula contamination scandal which resulted in the death of six infants, illness to thousands more and execution of corporate management found responsible.

"Ten years on and many Chinese people still do not trust infant formula on their local supermarket shelves, which has sparked a whole black market industry of Chinese students and others in places like Australia buying milk powder here and selling it back home at seriously inflated prices."

Mr Scadding said he had been approached by a number of food industry players to provide his forensic expertise in protecting and validating their product, including from the wine and seafood sector.

"For every $35 bottle of Australian wine sold to China we estimate it could be rebottled and resold up to 10 times, maybe more" Mr Scadding said.

"And we have compromised our prawn industry with exposure to white spot virus through imported product.

"Virtually all Australian prawns sold with their shells off, have been sent from Australia to Asia for processing and back again," he said.

"And a lot of the fish we eat has been sent from here in Australia or even New Zealand to Asia and back.

"Are we getting back what we sent up?

"Probably not," he said.

Mr Scadding said demand for traceability, the verification of provenance and transparency inside our food chains was happening in a big way.

"Consumers are increasingly demanding it.

"They want line of sight to where their food comes from – true provenance," he said.

Mr Scadding said there were implications for grain, particularly with the bulk handling model.

"Our clean, green and safe reputation is certainly marketable but we must be authentic in that promise, and you as farmers and custodians of your own story, are essentially as good as your worst partner in that bulk product."

Areas of greatest concern for international buyers and consumers centred on herbicide and pesticide residues and heavy metal contamination, making it important all players in the chain observed best practice management to avoid potential issues.

And especially as integrity issues in one Australian export industry could potentially shed doubt on the integrity of other sectors.



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