Authors: Yahaya Sumara Sulley1, Sena Abla Zonu2, Lydia Quansah1,2 & Mohammed Lawal2
1 Department of Forensic Sciences, Faculty of Biosciences, University for Development Studies, Ghana
2 Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Biosciences, University for Development Studies, Ghana
Section 16 of Ghana’s criminal code Act 29/1960 states that; ‘An intent to defraud means an intent to cause, by means of such forgery, falsification or other unlawful act, any gain capable of being measured in money, or the possibility of any such gain, to any person at the expense of any other person’.
This statute covers food fraud, which occurs when food is fraudulently marketed to deceive the consumer, typically for financial benefit (1). Food fraud involves illegal practices in the food supply chain like false labeling, product replacement, forgery, misbranding, dilution, adulteration, and others that may compromise the safety or authenticity of the food (2). These actions lower the food substance’s quality, and consuming it could be dangerous for the consumer’s health.
According to reports food fraud accounts for up to 25 percent of global food safety incidents and costs billions of dollars per year (3). This practice has reached epic proportions globally and there are several underreported food fraud cases in the Ghanaian food supply chain. This has made it very challenging to statistically measure the annually reported cases in Ghana. Notwithstanding, there has been an increase in the practice in recent times as compared to previous years (4).
Practically, only the offender knows what level or type of food fraud has been committed. The potential for financial gain from unsuspecting consumers is the main motivation behind food fraud. Particularly given the country’s current urbanization, population growth, and need for more readily accessible, ready-to-eat food products, the consumer’s preference for low-cost food products, low severity of punishment meted out to culprits, limited food authentication facilities, the COVID-19 pandemic and many other economic factors that have risen as a result of recent hardship in the country.
Nature of Food Fraud in Ghana
The country’s food supply chain is complex and fragmented, with multiple actors involved in the production, distribution, and sale of food. In Ghana, food fraud has been reported in various food products, including fish, meat, grains, spices, and beverages.
For instance in Ghana, tomato powder is usually scarce compared to chili pepper powder. When tomato is processed into powder, it is usually not very red. A report by the Ghana Food and Drug Authority in 2016 stated that tomato powder in the Ghanaian market was adulterated with annatto seeds (5). Honey is been adulterated with ingredients such as molasses from sugarcane, roasted and milled corn and sugar in Ghana (6).
Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are forced to ripen quickly with the help of calcium carbide which renders these products highly toxic when consumed (7). Palm oil adulteration has become a common practice in Ghana. Recently the FDA reports on adulterated palm oils found on the Ghanaian market have increased. Sudan IV dye popularly known among the market women as “shuudin” has been identified as the main adulterant after a market survey conducted in 2021 (8).
In a recent study conducted in Tamale, it was reported that beverages and juices, fruits and vegetables, spices, oils, meat and fish, baked foods, honey, milk, and semi-processed local foods such as groundnut paste, “Dawadawa,” “Kulikuli zim,” and “Agushi powder” were all implicated in food fraud. “Moora” (Bixa orellana seeds) was revealed as the key adulterant used in most foods to give them a reddish color to attract unsuspecting consumers. Some of the common food fraud strategies including adulteration, tampering, substitution, and mislabeling were also identified as ongoing in the study area (9).
Success Rate of Relevant Institutions in Resolving Cases of Food Fraud
The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) are two regulatory bodies in Ghana responsible for ensuring the safety, efficacy, and quality of food, drugs, and other products consumed by the public. While the FDA focuses on regulating food, drugs, and other products related to public health, the GSA is responsible for developing and promoting standards for products and services across various industries. Both agencies play a critical role in safeguarding the health and well-being of Ghanaians by enforcing regulations and standards that ensure the quality and safety of products sold in the country.
Both the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) have played important roles in fighting food fraud in Ghana. The FDA is responsible for regulating and monitoring the safety and quality of food products, while the GSA is responsible for developing and promoting standards for various industries, including food.
In 2022, the FDA collaborated with the police to arrest a painter who was misbranding and selling counterfeit alcoholic beverages. The products were found to contain harmful chemicals and posed a serious health risk to consumers. The agencies worked together to seize and destroy the products, and the culprits responsible were prosecuted accordingly (10).
In 2019, the FDA and GSA worked together to seize and destroy a large quantity of counterfeit canned tomatoes that had been illegally imported into the country. The agencies conducted inspections and testing that revealed the products were of poor quality and posed a health risk to consumers. As a result, the products were removed from the market and destroyed, and the importers were prosecuted for violating food safety regulations (11).
To combat food fraud, the FDA and GSA work together to enforce regulations and standards related to food safety and quality. In addition, both agencies also work with other stakeholders, such as producers, importers, and retailers, to raise awareness about food fraud and the importance of complying with regulations and standards. By working together, the FDA and GSA are able to identify and address instances of food fraud in Ghana, thereby protecting consumers from harmful products and ensuring the integrity of the food supply chain. There is however the need to do more because this practice is advancing into becoming a norm in Ghanaian societies.
The investigation of food fraud in Ghana faces several challenges, including:
Limited resources: The FDA and GSA have limited resources, including personnel and equipment, which can make it difficult to investigate and prosecute cases of food fraud.
Limited awareness: Many consumers and businesses in Ghana are not aware of the risks associated with food fraud or the importance of complying with food safety regulations and standards.
Corruption: Corruption is a major issue in Ghana, and it can be a challenge to ensure that regulatory agencies can carry out their duties without interference or bribery.
Lack of technology: The use of technology, such as advanced testing equipment, forensics and data analytics, can be limited in Ghana, which can make it difficult to detect food fraud or identify the sources of counterfeit products.
Key Suggestions for Policy Action
In regulating food fraud, governments should pay attention to both, preventing food fraud from occurring and monitoring, detecting and addressing food fraud. Many experts in food fraud widely believe that preventing food fraud is preferable to detecting and trying to remedy the damage after the fact. Challenges in the investigation of food fraud in Ghana can be addressed through several measures, including:
Increased funding: The government can provide more funding to the FDA and GSA to enable them to establish more units across the country, hire more personnel, acquire new equipment, and improve their operations.
Capacity building: The FDA and GSA can provide routine training and capacity-building programs to their staff to improve their skills and knowledge in investigating and detecting food fraud.
Public-private partnerships: The FDA and GSA can partner with private sector organizations and other stakeholders to leverage resources and expertise to combat food fraud.
Technology adoption: The FDA and GSA can adopt new technologies, such as forensic technologies (4), advanced testing equipment and data analytics, to improve their ability to detect and investigate food fraud.
Establishing strong legal frameworks: Ghana can strengthen its legal framework to make it more difficult for corrupt officials to interfere with regulatory agencies. This can include instituting harsher penalties for corruption and creating stronger protections for whistleblowers who report corruption.
In conclusion, food fraud is a global issue that compromises consumer health. The practice is expanding in Ghana, and there are numerous unreported cases in the food supply chain. Regulatory agencies like the FDA and GSA have made positive attempts, but there are obstacles, including a lack of resources, sophisticated technologies to spot fraud, and the requirement for harsher penalties for offenders to overcome. By working together, regulatory bodies, producers, importers, and retailers can raise awareness and enforce regulations to combat food fraud and ensure the integrity of the food supply chain.
1. Food Fraud: Who Cares About Food Fraud? [Internet]. [cited 2021 Dec 26]. Available from: https://www.thesciencesays.com/r/food-fraud-who-cares-about-food-fraud/60f89241-7cf3-49d6-b9f0-9e9ad66da165
2. FAO. Food Fraud-Intention, Detection, and Management. Food Safety Technical Toolkit for Asia and the Pacific No 5 Bangkok. 2021;
3. Visciano P, Schirone M. Food frauds: Global incidents and misleading situations. Trends in Food Science and Technology. 2021.
4. Sulley SY, Amankwaa A. Step up war on food fraud with forensics, a focus on Ghana – Scientect [Internet]. Step up war on food fraud with forensics, a focus on Ghana. 2020 [cited 2022 Nov 3]. Available from: https://scientect.org/2020/12/12/step-up-war-on-food-fraud-with-forensics-a-focus-on-ghana/
5. Essuman EK, Teye E, Dadzie RG, Sam-amoah LK. Consumers ’ Knowledge of Food Adulteration and Commonly Used Methods of Detection. Journal of Food Quality. 2022;1–10.
6. Fake Honey in Ghanaian market. – YouTube [Internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 27]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shh1oVm0Cjc
7. Chemicals in Vegetable Growth, Fruit Ripening and Health Effects [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 1]. Available from: https://www.modernghana.com/news/682186/chemicals-in-vegetable-growth-fruit-ripening-and-health-eff.html
8. 30% of palm oils on Ghanaian markets fail FDA’s nationwide zero Sudan dye test [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jun 1]. Available from: https://citinewsroom.com/2022/03/30-of-palm-oils-on-ghanaian-markets-fail-fdas-nationwide-zero-sudan-dye-test/
9. Lawal, M., Yahaya, D., Murtala, S., & Sulley, Y. S. (2023). The Status and Trends of Food Fraud in Tamale, Ghana. European Journal of Nutrition & Food Safety, 15(3), 22–31. https://doi.org/10.9734/EJNFS/2023/V15I31298
10. FDA arrests man for faking alcoholic drinks [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 1]. Available from: https://www.modernghana.com/news/523110/1/fda-arrests-man-for-faking-alcoholic-drinks.html
11. FDA bans 16 tomato paste products [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 1]. Available from: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/FDA-bans-16-tomato-paste-products-824227
Photo credit: https://fourpursuits.com/