Enforcement action taken against 20 cases of adulterated food products
- POSTED: 20 Dec 2013 21:31
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Cases of counterfeit food are rare in Singapore, but they do happen. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said from 2011 to 2012, it has taken enforcement action for about 20 cases, or 10 cases each year, of adulterated food products.
SINGAPORE: Cases of counterfeit food are rare in Singapore, but they do happen.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said over the past two years (2011 to 2012), it has taken enforcement action for about 20 cases, or 10 cases each year, of adulterated food products.
This year, it has so far taken no enforcement action against any company or individuals for dealing in such products.
Investigators and legal experts said strict laws in Singapore have clamped down on the number of infringements, but cases still emerge because the business of counterfeiting can be lucrative.
Local rock sugar manufacturer Cheng Yew Heng is the latest victim of food scam in Singapore.
A couple was recently taken to task for trying to pass off imported rock sugar as a product of the company.
The case was settled out of court for copyright violations, but underlying that is the wider concern of public health safety.
John Cheng, director of Cheng Yew Heng, said: "For rock sugar, it consists mainly of water and sugar. So these are the two main key ingredients that ensure the quality of the product.
“So for us, we make sure that the mills we source these sugar from are audited, and they have a certain standard, and water in Singapore -- we're not too worried about that but in other countries where water isn't potable all the time, that's an issue."
Very often, the source of such fake foods is unclear.
Philip Tan, managing director of Commercial Investigations LLP, said: "If you want to get evidence from retail outlets, it will be easier, but most of the time we want to trace to the source so that depends on the kind of products.
“It may take a while for the supplier to send the goods to the retailers so it's a challenge we face and it could be quite lengthy."
It is understood that common source countries include Thailand, Malaysia and China.
Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia, AVA said it is currently investigating the rock sugar case for non-compliance of food safety standards and requirements.
The AVA said it will take enforcement action if necessary.
But sometimes, enforcement is taken even if the counterfeit product is found be safe for consumption.
For example in 2011, authorities sampled and tested a food product which was labelled as 100 per cent bird's nest.
Test results showed that although the product was safe to eat, it had been adulterated with other food ingredients and was not 100 per cent bird's nest.
Enforcement actions were taken against the trader for adulteration and mislabelling.
Those Channel NewsAsia spoke with said since laws in Singapore were amended to mete out stiffer penalties to offenders, the incidents of infringements have gone down.
Andy Leck, managing principal at Baker & McKenzie Wong & Leow, said: "There will be some food laws governing the sort of ingredients, how you package or label the food.
You also have consumer protection laws, how you describe the food.
“There are obviously certain regulatory requirements, for instance there may be a requirement for you to stipulate what is the expiry date. So sometimes the infringers will just falsely represent what that date is.”
Under the Sale of Food Act and the Food Regulations, offenders may be fined up to S$5,000 for a first conviction, and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, the offender may be fined up to S$10,000 or imprisoned for up to 3 months, or both.
Investigators said fake food sold in Singapore come in many forms.
Mr Philip Tan said: "We have come across food seasoning, tonic, cooling tea, biscuit, liquor, even scallops, and of course, sugar.”
The most common adulterated consumables are spirits.
In May this year, 14 people were arrested for manufacturing and distributing counterfeit liquor.
The production facility, storage, distribution and retail outlets were also raided.
Mr Andy Leck said: “(Spirits are) easily adulterated. You have a situation where many infringers will simply go and collect the empty bottles after they have already been consumed.
“You can purchase them (empty bottles) also from pubs or karaoke joints, and many of the infringers or the syndicates will actually refill these bottles with adulterated products."
Beyond consumable products, counterfeit goods include a whole range of products -- from shampoo, perfume and even car and engine parts.
Industry players said one red flag is when the product one is buying is a lot cheaper than usual.
Consumer product safety regulations are enforced by SPRING Singapore.
The authority conducts regular market surveillance to detect unsafe products, and this include spot checks and testing against applicable safety requirements.