Technology taking on food counterfeiters

April 12, 2017

The WeChat app offers Chinese consumers a scanning tool which can determine if a food product is counterfeit or not.

As China’s middle class develops a taste for imported food and drink, produce suppliers in Australia and New Zealand are looking to anti-counterfeiting technology to protect their growing business from counterfeit foods.

Fruit and vegetable growers, wine producers and lamb farmers are teaming up with makers of tracking systems, codes and powders to combat fakes which cost the global food industry billions of dollars each year.

In China, the popular WeChat app offers consumers a scanning tool which can determine if a food product on a Chinese shop shelf is from where it says it is.

Small players such as meat company Silver Fern Farms and Synlait Milk have also asked tech firms such as Dunedin’s Oritain, which measures food isotopes as a checkable ‘fingerprint’, but Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is also in on the act.

Alibaba is piloting a tracing system and has signed a partnership deal with Kiwi dairy giant Fonterra and Australian vitamin supplier Blackmores.

‘‘We see the Australian and New Zealand markets setting the tone for the rest of the world when it comes to integrity, safety and quality of food supply chains,’’ Alibaba’s Australia and New Zealand managing director Maggie Zhou said in Canberra in late March.

‘‘It was a natural decision to pilot a program here.’’

Dislodging counterfeit food was no small challenge, with fraud costing the world’s food industry an estimated $US40billion a year, Alibaba said, citing Michigan State University research.

In China, $US1billion in counterfeit goods were seized in 2014, according to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition.

‘‘Categories that are faked so regularly are the (fresh produce) ones where New Zealand and Australia are strong,’’ said Mark Tanner, director of Shanghai-based firm China Skinny, which advises Western businesses operating in China.

But Australian and New Zealand firms are prepared to go to increasing lengths to protect sales they rely on for growth.

New Zealand’s total exports to China have quadrupled to NZ$12billion since 2007, most of them being food and beverage products, while Australian agriculture exports to China were worth about A$10billion in 2016, double the amount of five years earlier.

Auckland manuka honey firm Oceania Natural’s chief executive Walker Zhong said with the backing of a Chinese insurer, it had created a tool through WeChat which sent Chinese consumers an alert if the scanned code had already been used before.

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