There are no laboratory tests we can use to detect whether a piece of news is “fake,” no matter how much noise anyone makes about it. Often, it’s a matter of subjective opinion driven by specific agendas. In our world, the world of supply chain quality, however, anyone who cares to can detect fakes and counterfeits. After all, we are dealing with the material world, which can be tested in a laboratory.
With that as the background–the assumption that the real world is a reliable entity– we instead discover that it too is filled with fakery. That’s the bad news.
The good news (for consumers) is that the density and volume of information available to consumers from third parties is also enormous, and growing. Consumers are being warned by magazines, websites, and individual bloggers. Consumers are also taking matters into their own hands by funding lab testing (as they did when they funded the product testing which uncovered problems in pet food a few years ago.)
The bad news is for companies producing fake products, whether by commission (deliberately, to cut corners and beef up profits) or by omission, i.e., by neglecting to test real-world products with real-world methods, either not testing at all, or by using the fig leaf of periodic audits and verbal reassurances based on the idea of relationships built on longevity and trust. (We know how that turned out with Kobe Steel and Takata’s air bags.)
What is more fundamental than what we ingest?
The temptation to inflate profits was irresistible for a food importer. In December of 2017, reports appeared about a man, Ricardo Rudin Mathieu, “ran a racket. He put labels bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic seal on boxes of pineapples grown conventionally with chemicals. Before Rudin was caught, he managed to export more than 400,000 of the phony organics to the United States and Canada — enough to supply a pineapple to every resident of New Orleans.” The report goes on to state:
Like others responsible for what appears to be a rising tide of fakes in the $43 billion U.S. organic food market, Rudin escaped consequences for duping U.S. consumers, who pay steep premiums for food that may not meet the promise of the USDA seal.
What is of interest here is that the information about the scandal is not trickling down slowly, but hitting consumers directly through a website many use as their home page, MSN. It then leads readers directly to a popular site that alerts consumers to just how easily they might be the victims of such fake food. And, speaking of “Kobe,” the label “fake food” is most closely associated in consumer’s mind with beef, not with steel. This kind of “Kobe” is as much associated with defrauding consumers as when businesses (and then consumers) were defrauded by the steel company over the past ten years. A consumer-oriented website, www.eater.com, keeps the following article prominently on its website:
How to Avoid the Most Common Fake Foods on Restaurant Menus: Beware fancy-sounding promises of Kobe beef, red snapper, and truffle
Where’s the beef? USDA Prime, Kobe, and “Dry-Aged”
It is important to understand that menus and restaurant food claims are largely unregulated, exempt from Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture rules for retail. Label a “Choice” steak “USDA Prime” in the supermarket and you’ll likely get fined; label it “USDA Prime” on a menu and you just significantly enhanced your margin… the more “value added” tasty-sounding adjectives adorn a menu, the more likely there are lies. This is especially true in the highest-priced sections of most restaurant menus, meat and seafood.
The take-away from these items is that there is an increase in both the amount of fakery that’s happening in supply chains, and the amount of information available to people exposing how they are being duped.
Fake Personal Care
Next in importance to ingesting materials directly through what we eat and drink are the things we absorb indirectly, through our skin. It’s safe to say there are very few people who use no personal care products such as toothpastes, hair shampoos and skin care lotions and creams.
In September of 2017, Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine published an article outlining the results of their research into the claims of many personal care products. The specific focus was on testing products claiming to contain no allergens, and/or no fragrances, especially when caring for children and other vulnerable people. The results were shocking.
83% of products claiming to be “hypoallergenic” had at least one potentially allergenic ingredient. Nearly half (45 percent) of the products in the study that claimed to be “fragrance free” actually had a fragrance cross reactor or botanical ingredient. The study found that the vast majority (83 percent) of products with “hypoallergenic” labels included a potentially allergenic chemical. Products that included a “dermatologist-recommended” label had a median price of $0.20 more per ounce than those that did not have the label.
“We looked into what it means to be ‘dermatologist-recommended,’ and it doesn’t mean much because it could be three dermatologists recommending it or 1,000,” said Xu, a resident physician in dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Not too long ago, it would have taken a while for the information about the fakery in the personal care industry to reach the public. Now, the information was published online, and quickly picked up by the venerable old magazine, Prevention. Also, not too long ago, the information may have been shoved aside for the simple reason that this magazine, along with many others, would have been dependent on advertising from the very products and perhaps, entire industry, the study was unmasking. However, as of a year ago, Prevention no longer accepts paid advertising. Their subscription prices have gone up, but so have sales. The vision expressed by Rodale, Inc. tellingly says “As a new premium product, Prevention will be a magazine that today’s health-minded consumer wants, needs and will pay for; an authoritative and trusted source that breaks through the clutter and empowers people with the information they need to make decisions when it comes to personal or family health.”
Real Credibility Through Testing and Documentation
What these stories about food and personal care products (and steel) illustrate are the following:
- People are willing to pay for products they consider healthier than others.
- The premium price creates temptation for various kinds of counterfeits and fakes.
- People are becoming aware of counterfeits and fakes much more quickly than in the past.
- People are willing to pay a premium for products that are demonstrably credible in their claims about being healthier, and possibly about everything else that affects their lives.
One conclusion a forward-thinking company may come to is that having a robust supply chain quality management system based not on marketing claims but on objective data (for example, the testing of every lot of materials that make up their products) should be moved from the “cost center” side of their financial equation, to the “profit center.” Like organics, this may command a premium price.
A company may choose to do the testing for two different reasons. One reason is “ethics,” because it’s the right thing to do. The other is because, in the face of the tidal wave of “fake everything,” having the capacity to prove being “real everything” becomes a marketable asset.
And, as you might expect, EMNS, Inc. has a time-tested solution: GSQA®. Please see the links on the side of this Journal for more detail on getting real.