ABC RN Breakfast, 15 June 2015. Counterfeit food threatens Australia’s international reputation, by Cathy Van Extel.

To view the original and unedited article, which cites examples in Vietnam (cherries) and China (beef) click here.

Anyone who’s holidayed abroad knows about the profligacy of pirated DVDs and counterfeit handbags, but counterfeit food is now one of the biggest challenges facing Australian primary producers. Cathy Van Extel reports on the growing threat.

Australian food producers and exporters are calling on the federal government to do more to protect the nation’s clean, green image against a rising tide of counterfeiting.

Unscrupulous foreign operators are taking advantage of Australia’s reputation for quality food by counterfeiting labels and packaging to sell their own inferior and potentially unsafe product in international markets.

An increasing number of Australian producers are being targeted by food counterfeiters in Asia and the Middle East, and exporters are bracing for bigger problems in the future.

‘Counterfeiting is a huge global industry worth an estimated $1.7 trillion dollars,’ says John Houston, CEO of YPB Systems—one of a new breed of companies that’s emerging to develop technology to protect food producers from counterfeiters.

‘The standard issue that people are familiar with is going to Asia and buying a fake handbag or fake Polo shirt or something like that, now that problem is exacerbated by food quality and pharmaceutical quality,’ he says…

‘What I would say to any Australian food exporter to China is, the first thing you need to think about is that as soon as your product becomes successful over there someone will try to copy it or steal your brand.’

Premium Australian meat is a particular target. Wagyu beef king David Blackmore, whose product is in high demand around the world, fell victim to counterfeiters three years ago…

‘The main thing that Australia’s got over all other agricultural export countries, maybe except New Zealand, is our clean and green image and the fact that Australian food is safe,’ he says…

However, another Australian victim of food fraudsters believes there is little government can do to tackle the problem.

Howard Hansen is the managing director of Hansen Orchards, which exports fresh Tasmanian cherries into Asia.

‘Whatever happens after the product leaves the Australian shore, it’s very difficult for the government to have any influence over,’ he says. ‘They can’t stop someone in Hong Kong, China or Vietnam pulling a lid off a South American product and putting a counterfeit Tasmanian lid back on it.’

Hansen Orchards has been contending with food counterfeiting for the past decade, although there has been a big increase in the past few years, particularly in China.

‘Normally the artwork has got something a little bit different and it’s not quite the same, but they do seem to be getting more sophisticated and they are getting closer to copying the original designs,’ says Hansen.

A fortnight ago, Hansen Orchards discovered a problem in Vietnam after a consumer posted a complaint about food poisoning on social media and included a photo of a counterfeit package of Tasmanian cherries.

Howard Hansen was alerted to the case by Austrade after the story was picked up by a newspaper in Vietnam.

‘Austrade has responded on our behalf and pointed out that there is no Australian product in the [Vietnamese] market and hasn’t been since December last year,’ he says.

While Hansen is confident the companies who import his fruit continue to trust the brand,  he is worried food counterfeiting could undermine consumer confidence in Australian cherries…

It’s a problem that is only going to get worse for Australian producers…

Houston is urging Australian companies to be vigilant in protecting their brand.

‘There is no silver bullet for counterfeiting. It’s really a matter of putting a business process in place with measures that help protect the brand and the consumer,’ he says.

‘There’s very little anti-counterfeit technology being put into many products today but I think we’ll see more of this and brands becoming more proactive.’

 

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