Food Fraud

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There is mounting evidence of a disturbing practice where food manufacturers quietly substitute an authentic ingredient with a less expensive one and then deceive consumers into thinking the food contains the real thing. Consumer advocates call this food fraud.

Research shows that milk and honey are frequently adulterated with cheap, inauthentic ingredients. We think of milk and honey as wholesome foods. Well, think again.

Other examples of food fraud are the adulteration of chocolates and vanilla ice cream. Chocolates made by several leading brands are, in fact, not chocolates at all. They are made with polyglycerol polyricinoleate or PGPR. PGPR is derived from castor oil or soy bean oil but it tastes like chocolate. The food industry uses it because it's cheap.

Vanilla ice cream made by many popular brands contain a substance derived from wood pulp that tastes like vanilla. The reason? You got it, because it's cheap.

Truth in labeling is a fundamental requirement of consumer protection. Nowhere is this more important than in commercial foods. Unfortunately, in the labeling of chocolates and vanilla ice cream, the food industry is playing games with the truth.


Wood pulp flavoring is listed as "natural vanilla flavor" on the label, capitalizing on we the consumers' assumption that "natural vanilla" means vanilla beans. The inauthentic ingredients are hidden on the back of the package in fine print where you and I would have to be extraordinarily diligent to see them.

When a product contains neither chocolate nor vanilla, it is unacceptable for the product to be labeled as such in big bold letters on the front. That is not truth in labeling. That is food fraud.
With a Perspective, I'm Clarence Wong.

Clarence Wong lives in San Francisco and works at a community health center in Oakland Chinatown.